By Duncan Simpson
New Zealand PGA Secretary
Local professionals will be playing for nearly $220,000 in January, as the 2018 New Zealand Professional Golfers’ Association (NZPGA) season gets underway with a packed programme.
There will be little time to recover from Christmas and New Year indulgences, with the first event being the $25,000 Cardinal Logistics Whitford Park Pro-Am over 36 holes on January 6 and 7.
This traditionally draws a strong field, and next month should be no exception as many will be looking to use it as a tune up before the Rebel Sport New Zealand Masters at Wainui the following week. Tae Koh won at Whitford last January, and may well be on the Japan Tour in 2018, having got through to final stage qualifying at the time of writing. Our newest European Tour player Josh Geary, and Michael Hendry, are also previous winners at this tournament.
After that, a bunch of aspiring professionals – and those who have lost their NZ PGA playing card – will tee it up at Pukekohe for the 2018 NZ PGA Q School.
This is the pathway through which Kieran Muir and Daniel Pearce started their lives as tour professionals.
The Masters event on January 11–14 is a new addition to the PGA Tour of Australasia, with $110,000 up for grabs. It is sure to attract huge interest for several reasons: the pro-am format, with 50 amateurs joining the 50 professionals who make the cut, for the final two rounds; how the pros will tackle the somewhat controversial Wainui course, which stretches to 6500m from the back tees, and how the facility – only 18 months old – will handle the staging of a 72-hole tour event. The public too will be keen to see the likes of Ryan Fox and Michael Hendry in action on home soil, opportunities which may become increasingly rare as our top players continue to build their careers offshore. It should be a great week.
The circuit stays in Auckland for the Bayleys Waitemata Pro-Am on January 18 (won by Grant Moorhead last summer), followed by a new tournament in Clarks Beach on January 20, before heading south to Taupo for another new event, the Harcourts Taupo Pro-Am at Centennial.
Then it’s across central North Island to Napier for the Duke of Gloucester Napier Pro-Am, won last year by Shaun Jones. Shaun tried his luck in Europe this year on the Alps Tour, and is sure to be better for the experience in 2018.
January concludes with the three-tournament Wellington swing, starting with the Tommy’s Paraparaumu Beach Pro-Am on January 24. This is definitely one of the pros favourite New Zealand events, as they get a rare opportunity to play one of our iconic courses under tournament conditions.
Gareth Paddison won last year, and is another who may be plying his trade in Japan next year.
The players then head over the hill to the Wairarapa for the Spark Business Martinborough Pro-Am, which usually produces a surprise winner in the $15,000 one day shootout on this picturesque country course. Last year it was rookie pro Justin Morris, who had earlier won the 2017 Q School tournament at Taupo Centennial.
The final event is the ever popular Masterton Eketahuna Pro-Am, sponsored by Recreational Services, played over 36 holes with an increased $22,000 prize fund.
Daniel Pearce won in 2017, and used that as a springboard to take out the Queensland PGA Championship shortly afterwards, which improved his world ranking by more than 100 places.
All in all, January offers our players a great chance to cash in on home town advantage, and to get some serious competition under their belts before the NZ PGA Championship and New Zealand Open, as well as a string of lucrative Australian events, the biggest of which is the Perth International Super Sixes for $A 1.75 million.
But the NZ PGA circuit is not just about the professionals – it’s also an opportunity for amateurs to play in a team with our most highly skilled golfers, learn about what it’s like to play the game for a living, and hopefully pick up a tip or two along the way. Most of the events will still have some vacancies for club players, so contact the clubs concerned or the PGA of New Zealand if you want to find out more.
You are guaranteed to have a memorable day.