By Paul Gueorgieff
Editor Golfer Pacific
It’s one step at a time.
That’s the attitude Hawke’s Bay husband and wife Terry and Barbara O’Donnell and their son Peter are taking with their newly-established professional golf circuit, KiwiPro Tour.
The tour got under way this year with a total of 10 tournaments spread over seven months.
This is a golf circuit not about to rival the PGA Tour in the United States where prizemoney often ranges from $US6-10 million. Instead the stake for each tournament was $7000 and there wasn’t a Jordan Speith or Rory McIlroy in sight.
But should any of the winners on the KiwiPro Tour become half as successful as Speith or McIlroy then the KiwiPro Tour would have more than served its purpose.
Terry O’Donnell, the tour’s financier, was satisfied with the first season but would like to see it take a step forward next year.
“Next year the intention is to hold 20 tournaments,’’ Terry O’Donnell told Golfer Pacific.
This year’s 10 tournaments were all staged in the North Island and O’Donnell said he would like to see KiwiPro Tour cross the Cook Strait to the South Island, although it may not happen immediately.
“KiwiPro Tour intends to extend to the South Island eventually,’’ he said.
While the tour did not go to the south this year, participation from the south did come to the tour, including Shaun Jones from Christchurch.
“Shaun finished runner-up a record four times on the tour this year and he’ll be hoping his luck changes for the better in 201,’’ O’Donnell said.
He said a bigger effort would also be made to link the tour with other New Zealand tournaments.
“For example, to achieve continuity, if players are participating in pro-ams in the Wairarapa then we will hold a KiwiPro Tour event in (nearby) Palmerston North so that players can minimise travel costs and maximise winning opportunities.’'
O’Donnell said he was undecided on how to spread the prizemoney for next year. This year the tour started off with $5000 to winner but this was subsequently reduced to $3000 to the winner, therefore providing a greater spread of the remaining prizemoney. This was in response to consultation with players but O’Donnell said it did not necessarily work.
“As there was no appreciable increase in numbers of players we are re-thinking this strategy for next year where we may revert back to $5000 for first place. But this has yet to be decided.’’
While the tour is essentially for professionals there were some amateurs that got the chance to pit their skills against the pros.
“At Cambridge the tour gave a start to 15-year-old Isaac Butcher while Shannon Holden from Auckland competed in many of the later events and visibly improved his game as the season went on.’’ O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell, in fact, encouraged top amateurs to avail themselves the opportunity to compete in the events.
Lynnette Brooky-Godleman, who won two French Opens on the Ladies European Tour, became the first woman to play on the KiwiPro Tour when it came to her home course of Manor Park in Wellington.
Some of the highlights of the year included Josh Carmichael and Peter Lee both winning twice on the tour. Tyler Hodge, from Levin, turned professional on the tour and racked up a win at Manor Park in Wellington while other winners were Nick Gillespie, James Betts, Brad Shilton, Scott Hill, and Gareth Paddison.
O’Donnell said he would be delighted if any of those players took the next step up.
“New Zealand golfers need to have the experience of real competitive golf before they move onto the larger tours overseas. KiwiPro provides that training and capacity-building platform for golfers to experience the real competitive environment of professional golf.’'
Kiwi Pro Tour winners
There were 10 tournaments in the inaugural Kiwi Pro Tour this year. The winners initially received $5000 but this was later reduced to $3000 with the remainder of the prizemoney given a greater spread.
The winners, venues and the winner’s purse were:-
Scott Hill Pupuke $5,000
Josh Carmichael Huapia $5,000
Josh Carmichael Napier $5,000
Peter Lee St Andrews $5,000
Peter Lee Hastings $5,000
Brad Shilton Akarana$5,000
James Betts Cambridge $3,000
Tyler Hodge Manor Park $3,000
Nick Gillespie Miramar $3,000
Gareth Paddison Paraparaumu $3,000
KiwiPro Tour early 2016 schedule
The first five events for the 2016 KiwiPro Tour have been confirmed as:-
January 13-14 Taupo Golf Club
February 1-2 Manawatu Golf Club
February 23-24 Cambridge Golf Club
March 21-22 Levin Golf Club
March 28-29 Pupuke Golf Club