New Zealand Golf, PGA to merge

GOLFING MERGER: John Hart has confirmed that discussions are ongoing over the merger of New Zealand Golf and the PGA of New Zealand.
GOLFING MERGER: John Hart has confirmed that discussions are ongoing over the merger of New Zealand Golf and the PGA of New Zealand.

New Zealand Golf is set to merge with the Professional Golfers' Association of New Zealand.

In an attempt to align governance from grassroots to the professional game, Crown-funded national body NZ Golf is close to merging with the PGA - the national organisation responsible for delivering professional services.

Around the world, national associations operate independently from their PGAs. But in what's being described as a "common-sense move", New Zealand administrators are in negotiations in an attempt to maximise the resources available to a game facing limited funding, declining membership and a fragmented tournament structure.

Sir Michael Hill, who relaunched the NZ PGA Championship at The Hills last year, is underwriting the expanding event which cost $2.5 million to put on this year and received $650,000 in government funding - partly due to it creating a number of business opportunities with senior international executives.

Prior to reviving the iconic national PGA tournament, which dates back to 1920, Hill almost single-handedly saved the New Zealand Open, personally funding it to the tune of millions.

Hill's investment was compromised however when the open was taken away from him and moved to Christchurch in 2011 after a lengthy political wrangle over hosting rights.

John Hart, the organising committee chairman of the NZ PGA Championship at The Hills, confirmed negotiations began nine months ago and remain on track.

"We've had discussions, we're talking about merging the organisations closer together. It would open up the opportunity to talk about tournament structures. Those discussions are ongoing," Hart told the Sunday Star-Times.

"We started to write a strategic plan for the NZ PGA and as we were writing it we were saying ‘this is a plan for New Zealand Golf.' So, we started talking, the organisations have been in discussions for about nine months and we're working together to achieve a merger."

Hart said the arrangement could take at least another nine months to get over the line, but the man who led New Zealand's winning 2011 Rugby World Cup bid is confident it would significantly strengthen and ensure the long-term health of Kiwi golf.

"I think both boards are committed to it. It could take some time, it could take another nine months or so. But I think both parties are virtually signing heads of agreement to merge the organisations," he said. "That would give us great power in tournaments too, to come together and see how we structure the tournaments and make them better."

Dean Murphy, NZ Golf chief executive, also confirmed the situation and that a merger would be a positive step for the game.

"We've been working very closely to align our strategic plans and initiatives. If anything, we're getting closer every day and aligned in thinking - in particular, the tournament structure," Murphy said.

"We'll be looking at tournaments, both amateur and professional events. Should we have one [professional tournament], two, or three? It's a positive thing for the sport, we're both working towards the same things but we both have limited resources.

"It makes sense to get together. We're probably a month or two away from getting a final picture and going through a pretty serious piece of work around how exactly we bring it together."

Tournament director of the NZ PGA Championship, Michael Glading, who has previously been the CEO of New Zealand Football, says golf's administration has an opportunity to evolve.

"In pretty much every country the PGA and national golf association work separately, one looks after mainly amateur golf-based clubs and junior development, while the other looks after the professional end," Glading said.

"In terms of the NZ PGA Championship, it's been another development in the event's growth this year. We were very much on our own last year but our relationship with NZ Golf is developing. Being able to work with NZ Golf adds a lot to the event.

"During my time at NZ Football we developed a ‘Whole of Football' model and I know it's something NZ Golf is now working on too. I can understand how complex a job that is."

Sunday Star Times