Trans­fixed by golf’s big show

Upper Hutt Leader - - CLASSIFIED -

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.

MARTY MELVILLE/ PHOTOSPORT

Gal­leries gather around the 14th hole at Royal Welling­ton dur­ing the Asia-Pa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship.

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