PLAY­ING WITH THE PROS

New Zealand has a ProAm cir­cuit that is a breed­ing ground for bud­ding new pro­fes­sional golfers.

New Zealand Golf Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS AN­DRE WHI­LEY

Pro-Am tour­na­ments are the breed­ing ground for de­vel­op­ing new golf ta­lent and when com­bined with the Charles Tour events, they al­low for our New Zealand-based Pro­fes­sional tour­na­ment play­ers to play for a com­bined purse that ex­ceeded $550,000 this past year (July 2017-June 2018). This doesn’t in­clude the Aus­tralian Tour events or the Leg­ends Tour events (which caters for the se­nior play­ers 50+).

In talk­ing to the golf pro­fes­sion­als about why they play in the events, and to the golf clubs about why they host the events, they all smile and say, “It’s great for the game”! The events are times when both the big city clubs and the small coun­try clubs can have some of the top New Zealand play­ers walk­ing their fair­ways and en­joy­ing their hos­pi­tal­ity in the 19th Hole.

Ac­cord­ing to NZPGA Tour­na­ment Co­or­di­na­tor, Ge­off Smart, it is of­ten the only time when lo­cal golfers get to see pro­fes­sional golf in their area and they take pride in pre­sent­ing the golf course in top con­di­tion. Ev­ery year, Ge­off cov­ers thou­sands of kilo­me­tres as he man­ages the ProAm cir­cuit for the Reg­u­lar and Se­nior tour play­ers.

As Ge­off says, when he turns up to the golf course “the mem­bers are beam­ing; stag­ing the event is an ac­com­plish­ment af­ter many hours of hard work”. The rea­sons why a golf club stages a Pro-Am can be quite var­ied but over­all, “it is be­cause they love golf and they know the pos­i­tive ef­fects it will have on grow­ing the game and strength­en­ing their com­mu­nity. Whether it is rais­ing funds for lo­cal char­i­ties or in­vest­ing the pro­ceeds back into the club and fa­cil­i­ties, a Pro-Am tour­na­ment is pos­i­tive for all in­volved”.

“Oc­ca­sion­ally, I will hear from some of the city clubs that they are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to get spon­sor­ship or how it’s not go­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial for their club. How­ever, when I see a golf club like Tokarahi (in­land by 45-min­utes from Oa­maru) with only 45 mem­bers, stage a $20,000 Se­niors Pro-Am event, I know it is pos­si­ble for any golf club and any com­mu­nity to run a suc­cess­ful Pro-Am".

The Pro-Am cir­cuit is vi­tal in help­ing to de­velop New Zealand’s golf­ing ta­lent and many of our top pro­fes­sion­als cut their rookie teeth trav­el­ling around the coun­try play­ing the Pro-Am's. It’s great for their game de­vel­op­ment as of­ten it is a new day at a new golf course, with an­other group of pas­sion­ate golfers play­ing for a purse of $11,000 (1-day Pro-Am) with some of the big­ger 2-day events hav­ing a purse of $30,000.

For Pi­eter Zwart, a for­mer top am­a­teur golfer, now a PGA Trainee Pro­fes­sional at the Wai­tangi Golf Club, the events are a great way for them to visit dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. “Of course, com­pet­ing for the prize money is im­por­tant (he is cur­rently sit­ting 3rd on the money list) as that is the key pur­pose of play­ing pro­fes­sional golf but I am also ex­cited about ar­riv­ing at a new golf course, try­ing to learn the lay­out and meet­ing new peo­ple. I have been play­ing the Pro-Am cir­cuit for quite a few years and I have some great con­nec­tions; it is also about see­ing these friends again. Plus, I can’t think of a bet­ter way to see the coun­try”.

Many of the pro­fes­sion­als also like to give back to the golf clubs stag­ing these events by host­ing a ju­nior clinic or help­ing their play­ing part­ners. That is a big part of en­sur­ing that the event is suc­cess­ful for ev­ery­one in­volved.

Mike Reid knows a lot about Pro-Am golf tour­na­ments. As the Gen­eral Man­ager of the Omaha Beach Golf Club, where in March 2019, the club will host its 22nd tour­na­ment. Mike hasn’t been there for all twenty-two events, but he does know what it takes to run one of the mar­quee Pro-Am events with a $30,000 prize purse.

“The Pro-Am is re­ally about the golf course en­gag­ing with the com­mu­nity and pro­mot­ing it as a great golf des­ti­na­tion. The two day (36-hole event) brings ev­ery­one to­gether with many of our mem­bers com­ing on as spon­sors and host­ing friends or clients at the event. The pro­fes­sional play­ers also en­joy re­turn­ing to the event with some be­ing bil­leted by the same hosts, year af­ter year. One of the top play­ers stayed with a cou­ple when he was fresh on the tour­ing cir­cuit and many years later, hav­ing a full­time job and fam­ily, he still makes the trip to play in the event and catch up and stay with his orig­i­nal hosts. The tour­na­ment re­ally has a great vibe as it is an an­nual get­to­gether and the golfers and non­golfers in the com­mu­nity rate it as one of the best events in the re­gion”.

For Mike, the plan­ning of the next event re­ally starts im­me­di­ately af­ter the cur­rent event has fin­ished. “We are quick to thank our spon­sors, but we also show our ap­pre­ci­a­tion to our vol­un­teers who put in such an amaz­ing num­ber of man-hours into mak­ing sure the event is a suc­cess. We host a vol­un­teer’s “thank you” func­tion at which over 60-peo­ple at­tended to cel­e­brate the suc­cess of the event. This in­cluded the ball spot­ters, the BBQ team and course helpers. The qual­ity of the event is re­flec­tive of the ef­forts that many of these vol­un­teers con­trib­ute and in a smaller com­mu­nity like ours, it re­ally is one of our lead­ing events”.

“Any event that can have so many pos­i­tives for a com­mu­nity is worth be­ing a part of and for us at Omaha Beach Golf Club, hav­ing the best golf pro­fes­sion­als in the coun­try ‘tee­ing it up’ is a real buzz that we all en­joy. It has def­i­nitely strength­ened our club mem­ber­ship as well as hav­ing lifted our golf­ing pro­file lo­cally and na­tion­ally. We were rec­og­nized as one of the Top 25 golf cour­ses in the coun­try in the last golf course rank­ings. The lo­cal golfers love see­ing the golf course be­ing pre­sented in pris­tine con­di­tions. It is also a great fundrais­ing event that as­sists us to im­prove our course and club­house fa­cil­i­ties”.

For Liam and the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee of the Kaik­oura Pro-Am, host­ing forty PGA Pro­fes­sion­als from around the coun­try is a thrill, es­pe­cially when it’s a Pro’s first time vis­it­ing the town, play­ing the course and en­joy­ing the hos­pi­tal­ity. “The play­ers be­lieve we have the best hos­pi­tal­ity and the seafood and wild game plat­ters from the lo­cal re­gion are quickly de­voured! This re­ally lets the play­ers ex­pe­ri­ence the best of Kaik­oura and go away with great mem­o­ries, even if they haven’t played that well”.

There are not too many in Kaik­oura that aren’t aware that the tour­na­ment is on or who aren’t ac­tively en­gaged. As Liam shares, ”We start the event with a ‘Meet the Pro’ get-to­gether on the Fri­day night at the Lob­ster Inn; then the am­a­teur teams draw their Pro’s and the Hole Spon­sors draw their holes”. A month later and Liam is still rav­ing about play­ing with rookie pro­fes­sional, James An­stiss, who he rates as a great ta­lent. “I think we have had nearly ev­ery top golfer in the coun­try play our event at one time or an­other and then we see these names on the leader­boards of top tour­na­ments”.

The Kaik­oura Pro-Am re­cently com­pleted its 19th tour­na­ment and this an­nual event an­nounces to ev­ery­one that spring is fi­nally here. It at­tracts over 220 par­tic­i­pants as well as part­ners and fam­i­lies to the re­gion. The lo­cal busi­nesses re­ally get in be­hind the event and with a strong ma­jor spon­sor in “Hellers”, the pieces fall to­gether.

It hasn’t al­ways been easy, es­pe­cially af­ter the earth­quakes, as they lost three key spon­sors. How­ever, thanks to the as­sis­tance of the NZPGA, prizes and do­na­tions for the event were do­nated by golf pro­fes­sion­als and golf com­pa­nies from around the coun­try.

“We re­ally are a des­ti­na­tion Pro-Am and many of the club pro­fes­sion­als that play, bring teams from their home clubs. They have a great time and prob­a­bly stay up a lit­tle too late so the golf on the sec­ond day can be a lit­tle ‘dif­fer­ent’ but they can’t wait to re­turn”!

“Yes, it is a lot of work for us as we all vol­un­teer our time, but the ben­e­fits are hugely im­por­tant to the club. For a lit­tle coun­try course with­out a big mem­ber­ship, host­ing an event like this re­ally helps us fi­nan­cially. And they leave the area rav­ing about us, so we of­ten have green­fee play­ers turn­ing up and say­ing ’So and So told us to come and play here af­ter they had such a good time at the Pro-Am'. Per­son­ally, I can’t un­der­stand why there aren’t more Pro-Ams around the coun­try, as Ge­off and the team at the NZPGA pro­vide great sup­port lead­ing into the event and are on­hand dur­ing the event to make sure it works re­ally smoothly”.

A suc­cess­ful Pro-Am has a great three-way part­ner­ship: in its host club that pro­duces a great course, in its tal­ented pro­fes­sional golfers and in its sup­port­ive spon­sors that love the event. Dean McGona­gle, from Plat­inum Homes in North­land, is a huge sup­porter of the Pro-Am held an­nu­ally at Sher­wood Park in Whangarei.

For Dean “This has been a great way for Plat­inum Homes to ce­ment our brand in the com­mu­nity and be­cause golfers are a tar­get market for us, it does tick a lot of boxes for us as a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion. I can not think of a bet­ter way for me to con­nect with fu­ture cus­tomers and to as­sist our com­mu­nity. This year, we ded­i­cated the pro­ceeds raised to go back into the golf club. It was also a very suc­cess­ful fundrais­ing ac­tiv­ity for the club. We have a great lo­cal me­dia part­ner in the North­ern Ad­vo­cate, and they told the story re­ally well. There weren’t many in the com­mu­nity who didn’t re­alise that the event was on”.

Hav­ing sea­soned Pro’s like Mark Brown and Brad Shilton 'tee it up' was great and their am­a­teur play­ers had a blast with them. But when you have tal­ented young guns, like James An­stiss, who re­cently won the Hare­wood Open, Charles Tour event and Ryan Chis­nall, who is play­ing some out­stand­ing golf, it re­ally ex­cites ev­ery­one that is play­ing and com­ing out to watch.

For Dean, who has been play­ing golf since he was 12-years old, he knows the val­ues of the game and what it can do for young peo­ple. He is see­ing the golf aware­ness grow in Whangarei and with the grow­ing ju­nior mem­ber­ship in the area, he hopes to see some of the young golfers’ caddy for some of these tal­ented pro­fes­sion­als in the fu­ture.

Ev­ery­one has a re­ally great time and I am fo­cused on en­sur­ing that the event is fun for the pro­fes­sional play­ers and the am­a­teurs that par­tic­i­pate. We re­ally make it a spe­cial week­end and that it is more than just golf. We host a tour­na­ment din­ner and in­vite a guest speaker, so peo­ple have a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. But events like this don’t hap­pen with­out great or­gan­i­sa­tion and pas­sion­ate vol­un­teers help­ing.

Dean sees spon­sor­ing Pro-Am’s and be­ing part of the NZPGA cir­cuit, as a great way for com­pa­nies to get en­gage­ment with po­ten­tial clients and in­crease brand aware­ness. With over 500,000 golfers in New Zealand, the golf de­mo­graphic rep­re­sents a large tar­get au­di­ence and the spon­sor­ship of a small or big Pro-Am re­ally does pay div­i­dends right across the board.

So, if your golf club is look­ing to grow the game, build stronger re­la­tion­ships with cor­po­rate part­ners and en­gage more ef­fec­tively with your com­mu­nity, then host­ing a Pro-Am is a per­fect way to go!

For more in­for­ma­tion visit: www.pga.org.nz/run-your-own-pro-am?

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