PLAYING WITH THE PROS
New Zealand has a ProAm circuit that is a breeding ground for budding new professional golfers.
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?