WAITE RE­TURNS

Grant Waite is play­ing in his home­town at the Lawn­mas­ter Hori­zon Golf NZPGA Cham­pi­onship.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS FEATURES - WORDS PETER WIL­LIAMS

What’s even bet­ter is that the player many re­gard as the best the club ever pro­duced, Grant Waite, will make a spe­cial re­turn trip to his home­town and be the tour­na­ment’s star at­trac­tion and spe­cial guest.

Waite, now 52, was born and raised in Palmer­ston North. He left for Ok­la­homa Univer­sity in 1982 and has hardly lived in New Zealand since.

He grad­u­ated from OU in 1987, turned pro the same year and be­came, at the time, just the third New Zealan­der af­ter Sir Bob Charles and John Lis­ter to win on the US PGA Tour – at the 1993 Kem­per Open.

His mother Rae still lives in Palmer­ston North and Grant is de­lighted to make a home­com­ing for such a sig­nif­i­cant event at the place where he learnt the game in the 1970s.

The tree lined Hokowhitu course, on the banks of the Manawatu River, has been the home of the city’s premier golf club since 1895. Over the years the course has hosted five New Zealand Opens and four NZ PGA Cham­pi­onships, the most re­cent when the late, great Kel Na­gle won in 1957.

The NZ PGA Cham­pi­onship has had a topsy – tur­vey re­cent his­tory. For a time it was part of the Web. com Tour with a mil­lion dol­lar purse. Steven Alker’s win in 2009 at Clear­wa­ter re­mains one of his most treasured mo­ments.

Since then though, it’s re­verted to be­ing part of the Aus­tralasian tour first as a Tier 1 event at The Hills in a Pro-Am for­mat but more re­cently as a tier 2 $125,000 event played for the last two years at Re­muera in Auck­land.

But the in­abil­ity to main­tain spon­sor­ship in Auck­land – de­spite at­ten­dances be­ing on a par with both the New Zealand Opens – meant that the tour­na­ment was up for grabs again.

En­ter Michael Wil­liams, an am­bi­tious 31-year-old who’s been the Gen­eral Man­ager at Hokowhitu for the last six years. Wil­liams knew that the club had a proud his­tory with na­tional events and had suc­cess­fully run a Charles Tour event, the Lawn­mas­ter Clas­sic since, 2013.

“So we went to our spon­sors and com­mu­nity to see what sup­port we’d get for a $125,000 tour­na­ment in­stead of $50,000 event.

“It’s “We like the idea of show­cas­ing golf in the re­gions” says Sains­bury. The re­al­ity is that while club mem­ber­ship is rea­son­ably strong in Auck­land, we’d re­ally like to see clubs in the prov­inces in­crease their num­bers.”

“We're de­lighted to say that Lawn­mas­ter, the Hori­zon Trust, Palmer­ston North City Coun­cil and Sport Manawatu's Events Fund were all happy to go to the next level” says Wil­liams.

For the NZPGA's Gen­eral Man­ager Dominic Sains­bury, the move fits re­ally well with their am­bi­tions.

“We like the idea of show­cas­ing golf in the re­gions” says Sains­bury.

“The re­al­ity is that while club mem­ber­ship is rea­son­ably strong in Auck­land, we'd re­ally like to see clubs in the prov­inces in­crease their num­bers.”

“We think hav­ing so many play­ers of this qual­ity in Palmer­ston North for a week will re­ally help boost the pro­file of the game in the area.”

But a con­flict of sched­ul­ing means the win­ner of the last two Lawn­mas­ter Classics, Mike Hendry, won't be at Hokowhitu to at­tempt a ha­trick.

Hendry's sec­ond plac­ing on the Aus­tralasian Tour Or­der of Merit last year qual­i­fies him for a start in the $US9.7 mil­lion World Golf Cham­pi­onship Mex­ico Open. There's no cut and last place in the lim­ited field wins around $50,000. It's un­der­stand­able where Hendry has to be!

But the NZPGA de­fend­ing cham­pion from last year at Re­muera, Aus­tralian Brad Kennedy will be there along with many of what we might call the sec­ond level of New Zealand pros – Josh Geary, Mark Brown, Gareth Pad­di­son and last year's Or­der of Merit win­ner Keiran Muir.

With the New Zealand Open on the fol­low­ing week in Queen­stown, there's also hope that some of the Ja­panese play­ers headed to Mill­brook might ac­cli­ma­tise them­selves to New Zealand con­di­tions with a start in the NZ PGA.

The call went out from Manawatu GC and the NZPGA to have the other two favourite sons of Hokowhitu – Tim Wilkin­son and Craig Perks – play as well.

But Wilkin­son at the time of writ­ing was hang­ing on rather pre­car­i­ously to a place in the top 125 of the Fedex Cup and needs ev­ery start in the early part of the year to con­sol­i­date his play­ing sta­tus on the US PGA Tour.

Perks, the fa­mous win­ner of the 2002 Play­ers Cham­pi­onship, has com­pletely re­tired from com­pet­i­tive golf and only brings his clubs out now for so­cial rounds.

But the role call of th­ese names shows just how im­por­tant Manawatu GC has been to the evo­lu­tion of the game in this coun­try.

Waite was the trend­set­ter. Many sug­gest he might have been an ab­so­lute world beater if his putting matched the qual­ity of his ball strik­ing.

Although a tour­na­ment win­ner in 1993, his best year was 2000 when he looked odds-on to at least be in a play­off at the Cana­dian Open.

Then a fel­low called Tiger Woods nailed a six iron to the fringe of the 18th green from a bunker 218 yards away on the other side of a lake. Woods re­gards it as one of the best shots of his ca­reer. Waite fin­ished a shot be­hind in sec­ond place. (Craig Perks was 4th.)

The Palmer­sto­nian has been cam­paign­ing with some suc­cess on the Cham­pi­ons Tour since he turned 50 win­ning over $US600,000 so far, in­clud­ing third place at the 2015 US Se­nior Open.

He's also highly re­garded as a coach and was men­tioned in sev­eral me­dia sto­ries back in 2014 when Woods was look­ing for a new men­tor be­fore the 14 time ma­jor cham­pion set­tled on Chris Como.

Hokowhitu, at 6055 me­tres from the back tees, is very short by mod­ern cham­pi­onship stan­dards. As on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions over the last 122 years at the course, the main de­fence will be the wind. If it doesn't blow, and in March you'd ex­pect some idyl­lic weather, the 61 posted by Hendry in the first round last year could be threat­ened again.

Grant Waite prob­a­bly won't be the one to shoot it, but like thou­sands of oth­ers in the Manawatu golf com­mu­nity, he'll be de­lighted to see the ven­er­a­ble old NZPGA Cham­pi­onship back on his home course for the first time in 60 years.

Grant Waite dur­ing the Insper­ity Cham­pi­onship at The Wood­lands Coun­try Club Texas.

Manawatu Golf Club.

Michael Hendry at the Manawatu Golf Club.

Josh Geary dur­ing the 2016 Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship at RACV Royal Pines Re­sort on De­cem­ber 2, 2016 in Gold Coast, Aus­tralia.

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