Find­ing New Zealand’s mini golf champ

Western Leader - - WHAT’S ON - SAM HEWAT

Pro­fes­sional mini golf is se­ri­ous busi­ness, says New Zealand’s cur­rent mini golf cham­pion Bobby Hart.

The Laingholm res­i­dent is part of the New Zealand Minigolf Fed­er­a­tion - formed in 2014 - which is pre­par­ing for the first ever New Zealand Minigolf Open to be held in Auck­land on March 18.

Com­peti­tors will take to the turf at Liliputt on Ta­maki Drive with the top three fin­ish­ers book­ing a spot at the World Cham­pi­onships in Croa­tia later this year.

While a tra­di­tional Kiwi au­di­ence might be obliv­i­ous to the fact pro­fes­sional mini golf is ac­tu­ally a thing, make no mis­take, it’s a grow­ing phe­nom­e­non.

‘‘In Europe, it’s mas­sive,’’ Hart said.

‘‘When I went to Kosovo, I was play­ing against guys who have been play­ing pro­fes­sional mini golf for 30 years.’’

The nu­ances of the game are spec­tac­u­lar. Sur­faces can vary any­thing from felt and turf, to con­crete and fi­bre­glass.

There’s more than 20,000 vari­a­tions of mini golf ball rang­ing from rub­ber to glass. Some pro­fes­sion­als will even use a dif­fer­ent ball for ev­ery hole, de­pend­ing on how it plays.

And while the game might be seen as ‘‘just a bit of fun,’’ it’s that quirky na­ture that makes mini golf’s po­ten­tial so great, Hart said.

‘‘You look at all these other sports, they are all re­vert­ing to these smaller sided games to at­tract crowds and at­tract peo­ple to the game,’’ Hart said.

‘‘You’ve got futsal with soc­cer, the sev­ens, the nines, T20, all of that. Golf has been miss­ing out this whole time.’’

Hart was crowned New Zealand cham­pion af­ter plac­ing 31st at the world champs in Kosovo mak­ing him the high­est rank­ing Kiwi.

The sport had po­ten­tial to take off in New Zealand and we could even have a world cham­pion one day, he said.

‘‘You don’t have to be phys­i­cally fit or have phys­i­cal re­quire­ments to play, any­one can pick it up and be­come bet­ter at it. We just want to get peo­ple to un­der­stand there is a pro­fes­sional side to it and you can ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent your coun­try.’’

There will be four cat­e­gories at next month’s tour­na­ment - mens and wom­ens, as well as youth aged 13 to 17 - and par­ent and child - with chil­dren aged be­tween 5 and 12.

Keen mini golfers still have time to sign up and qual­ify.

SAM HEWAT/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand mini golf cham­pion Bobby Hart is gear­ing up for next month’s New Zealand Minigolf Open.

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