Three of the greatest cricket captains in test history are confirmed as celebrity golfers for the New Zealand Open Championship in 2014.
Australian legends Ricky Ponting and Allan Border and arguably New Zealand’s finest captain Stephen Fleming are among the sport stars to confirm their place in the biggest tournament staged in New Zealand for many years.
Ponting, who hit headlines in recent weeks for the release of his controversial autobiography Ponting: At the Close of Play, is excited to make his debut in the event that will be staged from February 27 to March 2 at The Hills and Millbrook in Queenstown.
“I have always loved coming to New Zealand throughout my cricketing career and I haven’t spent any time in Queenstown so to play in an event like this will be a great experience,” said the 38-year-old, who retired from test cricket in 2012.
“NZ is such a great country to tour - it has a lifestyle a lot like my home in Tasmania. The competition was always great on the cricket field but the food, wine and scenery are just amazing, the people are really friendly and the golf courses over there are second to none.
“I am going to come over a few days early with the wife to enjoy Queenstown. I can’t wait.”
Ponting, who has enjoyed the chance to play more golf in 2013 since hanging up his cricket spikes, isn’t just coming to make up the numbers.
The former skipper is obsessed with the game and has a natural swing and record that suggests he could compete with the professionals.
Ponting has beaten his good friend, three-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley, over 18 holes, he plays off an impressive +1 handicap and boasts a career-low round of 66.
“There was a magazine article over here [in Australia] that suggested that I was going to take up a pro career but that is unfounded,” said Ponting.
“I love the game and it’s a great way to compete with your mates when you have stopped played top-level, professional sport.
“I am looking forward to the banter with guys like Flem, who I played with here a few months ago, and all other sportsman and golfers playing in the event. I am sure there will be a few ex-All Blacks and Wallabies involved and there will be plenty of rivalry. It is going to be a great week both on and off the golf course.”
He is such a naturally talented golfer that South African great Gary Player suggested he had picked the wrong career when he chose cricket ahead of golf in his youth.
That is a huge call considering the test career he has left behind. Ponting retired in December 2012 from test cricket as one of the greats of the game with 13,378 test runs an average of 51.85 from 165 tests.
Like Ponting, Border’s career stands alone as truly world-class.
He wore the Baggy Green cap for 156 tests for Australia. He still holds the world record for the number of consecutive test appearances of 153 and the number of tests as captain.
Border amassed an incredible 11,174 test runs which was a world record until it was passed by West Indies great Brian Lara in 2005.
The 58-year-old from New South Wales is excited to the come back across the ditch.
“I have always enjoyed coming to New Zealand during my cricket playing days – it was always a very competitive series,” said Border.
“I have never been to Queenstown so I am really looking forward to that experience.”
Border, who is an ambassador at the Brookwater Golf Club in Brisbane and a member at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney, plays as much golf as time will allow. He is up for the challenge.
“The main thing I like about playing in pro-am events is that it really gets my competitive juices flowing again,” he said.
“It is great watching at close quarters how good the pros hit the ball.”
Border is looking forward to the banter both on and off the golf course with the Kiwis.
“I can't help myself as far as playing seriously but not serious enough that I don't enjoy a bit of banter. My short game is very embarrassing.”
Fleming, who was so often Ponting’s adversary in test matches throughout his career, cannot wait to resume that rivalry.
“I have had a couple of games with Punter and happy to report I'm 2up,” said the 40-year-old, who plays right-handed off a 9 handicap.
“He is a very good golfer and obviously an outstanding cricketer so to beat him at anything is a good feeling. [Brendon] McCullum and Fleming beating [Wayne] Grady and Ponting is a career highlight!”
The former skipper, who played 111 tests at an average of 40, is counting down the days to make his debut in the event.
“I have wanted to play in an event like this for years and can’t wait until the opening round next year,” he said.
“I have played golf for a number of years including many rounds around the world when I was playing cricket.
“I found golf a great release from the cricket grind and as a former top order batsman, the chance to have another go after a bad shot was always appealing. Playing alongside the professionals and watching them up close will be outstanding.”
Fleming plays every Wednesday with a group of old cricket mates as he misses the competition of top level sport.
“I play in a regular group at Clearwater resort that often includes Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan and when available Brendon McCullum,” he said.
“So the haggles are intense and the sledging fierce! I am currently playing on a 9 handicap which is around the same as the rest of the group although Astle plays well off a 3.”
The three cricketing greats will be joined by another former Black Cap Mark Richardson who returns to the event after “having the time of my life” at the New Zealand PGA Championship for the past two years.
There is also a host of former rugby legends returning to Queenstown in World Cup winning Wallabies Captain Nick Farr-Jones and All Black greats Jeff Wilson and Justin Marshall.
The sports celebrities follow in the footsteps of Hollywood actor Don Cheadle, England cricketing legend Sir Ian Botham and former World No.1 amateur Lydia Ko who have played the celebrity format of the NZ PGA Championship for the past two events.
Tournament Organisers said that further professional and celebrity player announcements will be named for the New Zealand Open in the coming weeks.