Transfixed by golf’s big show
Upper Hutt stars on foreign TV screens as Royal Wellington hosts the Asia-Pacific’s top amateur golfers.
back. The man who’ll present the next green jacket at Augusta next April is polished, as you’d expect, and answers the burning question about their generous outlay.
‘‘We certainly think the investment has been worth it. Our two-time winner, Hideki Matsuyama [in 2010 and 2011] is now ranked No 4 in the world. And the fact that the R&A has granted a full exemption to the winner of this tournament, indicates the stature that it’s attained,’’ Ridley said.
‘‘We’re now seeing every year more and more players in the top100 of the world amateur golf rankings [there were 18 for this tournament including three New Zealanders] ... and I think more than that, it really is bringing out the potential for the future, and that’s what we’re most excited about. These young golfers going back to their home countries and spurring interest for more development in those countries.’’
The tournament motto is ‘‘creating heroes’’. Of the 116 who tee off, realistically only 20 are winning chances and there are future stars among them. As Ridley notes it’s a development tournament, too, and there’s some score blowouts among those cut at halfway. But what an experience; flown in and out by organisers, put up at the James Cook and ferried to and from the course like PGA Tour stars. And that lunch buffet in the clubhouse ...
Only Iraq, Nepal and Krygyzstan aren’t represented from 41 Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation members. One sour note is the absence of Iraqi Amer Radee, a Jordan-based refugee who had his flights booked and spot in the field confirmed, but was denied a visa by Immigration New Zealand for what it explained were concerns he wouldn’t board his return flight.
Electronic scoreboards and television cameras are everywhere; golfers get the full microphone introduction at the tee box and fairways are roped off. The course with its fast, tiered greens is a challenge – even without Wellington’s gales which mercifully stay away. The whole experience is meant to mimic what it’s like as a pro – a path several are eyeing as soon as next year – and the pressure shows on nearly everyone at times as they eye amateur golf’s biggest prize that will change their careers.
The PR spin is relentless, but priceless for New Zealand. Sixteen hours of live TV coverage is beamed around the world and led by a Kiwi – one of the world’s top golf analysts Frank Nobilo – is the winner for Wellington and golf tourism which helped draw a $900,000 Government investment last year.
With Nobilo as virtual tour guide there are stunning vistas of New Zealand throughout – even if the Hutt River at one stage appears to feed Huka Falls. Luring wealthy golfers to the country to spend up large is a high priority and it’s a lucrative business, with Golf Tourism NZ inching closer to its target of attracting $500 million a year.
The Royal Wellington members are beaming, three years after they bid to be New Zealand’s first host. They stumped up $4 million without too much trouble and enlisted Greg Turner to boost their course to championship standard, which cost $6.5m in all. The weather plays ball and tournament organisers hand it back in pristine order. The New Zealand golfers – who’ve never seen the course so good – chat about the week of their lives and muse about what might have been. Five in the top-14 is a solid result for New Zealand Golf, with Porirua lad Daniel Hillier the best in sixth equal, nine shots behind Lin.
By Sunday evening it’s all over as golfers and Masters and R&A officials have a farewell drink then file away to various parts of the globe, and around 250 volunteers head home. Wellington did it well, and rumours circulate the grand old club may be top of the queue as host when New Zealand pops up next on the rotation.
It may be some time before we see the likes of it again, but for a lot of golf people and a few firsttimers it was a lot of fun while it lasted.
Galleries gather around the 14th hole at Royal Wellington during the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.