With the announcement today that 11 golf professionals will be travelling from Japan to compete in the New Zealand Open, the overall field in 2014 will now comprise a total of 20 professionals who ply their trade on the lucrative Japan Golf Tour.
The National Open, sanctioned by the PGA tour of Australasia, will be staged at The Hills Golf Club and Millbrook Resort from February 27 to March 2 and is expected to be the biggest golf tournament held in New Zealand for many years.
In 2014, for the first time, the New Zealand Open has formed a partnership with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO), one of the leading golf tours in the world.
As a result of this agreement the New Zealand Open will host 11 Japanese professionals in addition to six Australians from that tour, and our own Michael Hendry, David Smail and Richard Lee.
Leading the feature players is Japan’s Toshinori Muto who finished 32nd on the money-list in 2013.
The 35-year-old from Gunma Prefecture has won five times on the Japan Golf Tour between 2006 and 2012 and recorded three top-five finishes in Japan in 2013.
The World No. 240 returns to Queenstown having played in the NZPGA Championship last year where he finished in a share of eighth place at The Hills.
He will be joined by compatriots Yuki Kono (33rd on the money list and Winner of Challenge Tour in 2012), Sushi Ishigaki (49) and Hiroshi Iwata (59) and Aussies Kurt Barnes (40) and Steven Conran (52) as the leading players coming to NZ from the 2013 Japan Tour money list.
Kono is a highly-rated rising star of the Japanese game.
In 2013 he recorded three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up finish at the SEGA SAMMY Cup, and finished his debut season on the JGTO with (NZD)$353,000 in prize-money.
Conran is a former Australian Amateur Champion and one-time winner on the Japan Golf Tour.
Fellow New South Wales professional Barnes has also claimed one title in Japan.
The 32-year-old, who won the NZ Stroke Play Championship in 2003 at Chisholm Park, will continue his affinity with New Zealand events at the National Open.
Melbourne professional Paul Sheehan, who advanced through Qualifying School in 2013, is also a quality addition. The former PGA Tour professional has won three times on the Japan Golf Tour including the Japan Open in 2006.
Michael Glading, the New Zealand Open Tournament Director, is pleased with the high calibre of professionals from the Japan Golf Tour.
“We are really excited to see the quality of players who have confirmed for the New Zealand Open,” said Glading
“I understand that the Japan Tour players are really excited to come to Queenstown and to compete in the tournament that is going to be a memorable week both on and off the golf course.
The Japan Golf Tour have also expressed their delight at having 20 of their Tour players at the 2014 New Zealand Open and have confirmed that they look forward to developing the relationship between the JGTO and the New Zealand Open into the future.
Mr. Ishii – the Japanese owner of Millbrook Resort – is a proud co-host of the NZ Open for the first time and is look forward to welcoming them to play at Millbrook as part of the championship.
“This is the first year of a partnership with the JGTO which we hope this will develop further and confirm the NZ Open’s place on one of the world’s leading tours. We aim to create an event that the leading professionals from around the world want to play in.”
As a result of the partnership the winner of the tournament (or, in the event it is won by an existing JGTO member, the leading non-exempt player) will be granted automatic entry into the 2014 Japan Golf Tour Championship and two further Japan Tour tournaments in 2014.
For rookie professionals like Ryan Fox, who is yet to gain a full card on a main tour around the world, the chance to earn playing rights on the Japan Golf Tour is a huge bonus to winning the New Zealand Open.
“It's a great opportunity for us playing in the NZ Open,” said the 25-year-old Auckland professional.
“Not only is it a great event in a great part of New Zealand but the pathway leading to the Japan Tour for the winner only adds to the prestige of the event.
“The Japan Tour is recognised as one of the leading tours worldwide and to have the chance to get entry into some of their events is fantastic.”
Fox said it wasn’t just the opportunity to play on a big tour but also that there are significant world ranking points for Japanese Tour events.
“There is always a chance to have a couple of really good weeks and potentially play your way onto the Japan Tour for the following year. I am really looking forward to the NZ Open this year for both the event itself and the potential opportunities it can provide for the Japan Golf Tour.”
In 2013 the JGTO co-sanctioned the Thailand Open and the Indonesian PGA events; the New Zealand Open now becomes the third event to join forces with the Japan Golf Tour.