Colourful ex-English cricket star Sir Ian Botham will play next year's national pro-am golf tournament in Queenstown.
Botham, one of England cricket's best all-rounders, will be joined by fellow English cricketing great Tony Greig in the celebrity line-up for the 2013 New Zealand PGA Championship.
Tournament bosses say they managed to attract Botham and Greig thanks to a four-day cricket fixture between England and a New Zealand selection overlapping the golf event which runs from February 28 to March 3.
The pair are the first famous names confirmed for next year's tournament which sees celebrity and local amateurs play simultaneously alongside competing professional golfers.
It's also been revealed the total prizemoney pool has been upped from $500,000 to $600,000, at an official launch in Auckland this morning (Thursday).
It now means the tournament has prestigious Tier One status on the PGA Tour of Australasia which boosts the ranking points professional players can earn.
Tournament director Michael Glading says the elevation of ranking points will make it more attractive to higher-ranking golfers and help the organisers' ambition of attracting the cream of Australasian and Asian golfers.
Prime Minister John Key, who played in the inaugural pro-am event earlier this year, announced Government financial support from its Major Events Fund has gone from $500,000 to $650,000 for 2013.
"From our point of view it's a no-brainer," Key says.
"It's a great event that promotes New Zealand and puts us on the world stage."
Wakatipu-based jewellery magnate Sir Michael Hill (above), who hosts the tournament at his private The Hills course near Arrowtown and underwrites it, says the increased Government funding is necessary.
"It's very tough to get something like this off the ground - without that we couldn't have gone ahead.
"The Government has the vision and sees the big picture. It's very exciting and the biggest winner will be Central Otago and Southland."
The tournament's 2012 winner Kiwi Michael Hendry has confirmed he will defend his title next year. Australian pro Brendan Jones, the highest-ranked player this year at 80 in the world also plans to return in 2013.
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