Professional golfers and celebrities converging on Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island for the 2013 NZ PGA Pro-Am Championship, are already talking as much about their off-the-field experience as their prospective golfing performance.
A strong field of international golfers and one of the biggest contingents of Kiwi professionals in recent history, have lined up for the 2013 NZ PGA, played from 28 February to 3 March.
New Zealand professional golfer, Mark Brown says the event at The Hills, the private course owned by New Zealand entrepreneur and jewellery magnate Sir Michael Hills, at Arrowtown outside Queenstown, is widely regarded as the "stop of the year" on the Australian tour.
Several other high profile players lining up for the for day event say they’ve been attracted to the tournament because of its stunning location.
Sir Ian Botham
Cricket legend Sir Ian Botham, one of the celebrity amateurs teeing off in the Pro-Am said he was looking forward to returning to Queenstown and will be taking in the sights, sampling the fantastic local wines and food, playing golf and supporting his beloved cricket team - who will be playing a New Zealand Xl in a four-day match in Queenstown at the same time.
Praise for The Hills venue and Queenstown location has also come from the tournament's top rated player, Australian player Brendan Jones, who said he had such a good time last year he could soon be a part-time Queenstown resident.
"I think we'll be putting a deposit on something before we leave. It's so close to Sydney that to come across for a week in winter to go skiing and for a month in summer makes sense to me.
"I said last year it was the most beautiful place in the world, and I've really got in my head now that I want to come back more and more often."
Kiwi teenage golfing sensation Lydia Ko, now the World Amateur No 1, is also excited about returning to Queenstown for this year’s NZ PGA Pro-Am Championship and is proving to be the star attraction for spectators and the world’s media.
An expected 65 media representatives from Australasia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States will cover the event at The Hills and will be watching Ko’s game closely.
The secondary school student from Auckland’s North Shore says she is excited to be returning to Queenstown for the tournament as it is such a special location.
The 15-year-old says she’s played three of the region’s main courses - Millbrook, The Hills and Jack’s Point - and none of them is easy but she enjoys their challenges.
Other well-known amateurs teeing off at the Pro-Am include All Black Justin Marshall, Wallabies Nick Farr-Jones and George Gregan, Olympic rowing gold medallist Mahe Drysdale, and Kiwi sports broadcaster and cricket legend Mark Richardson.
The NZPGA format is unique and on day one 142 professionals tee off with the top 60 making the cut to progress through to the weekend to play for the NZ PGA Championship.
A field of 66 amateurs play a seeding tournament at nearby Millbrook Golf Resort then each amateur is placed with a professional and that pair then plays as a two-ball, best-ball team on the Saturday and Sunday for the NZ PGA Championship Pro-Am title.
Prize money for the 2013 tournament has increased to NZ$600,000 this year which puts the tournament up to Tier 1 status on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
Top golfers competing include three-time US Open winner and World Golf Hall of Fame member Hale Irwin, 12-time Japan Tour winner Australian Brendan Jones, fellow Aussies Craig Parry and Peter O’Malley, and defending champion Kiwi Michael Hendry.
New Zealand professionals David Smail, and Phil Tataurangi return to the competition along with Steven Alker, Andrew Martin, Gareth Paddinson, Ryan Fox, Nick Cullen, Kim Felton, Scott Strange, Greg Turner and Richard Lee.
Five-time Japan Tour winner Toshi Muto also joins the field alongside other Asian favourites Zhang Xinjun of China, Kang Kyung-nam from Korea and Michael Tran from Vietnam.
Ryan Fox, son of All Black great Grant Fox, says playing The Hills at Queenstown is golfing nirvana and he can’t wait to be back there. Fellow Kiwi Michael Hendry says he adores the location but The Hills is not just a pretty place - the course is tricky one.
Apart from some top quality golf and the chance to see golfing greats and amateur celebrities in action, the NZPGA provides four days of entertainment, live music, top quality local food and wine.