Sir Michael Hill’s Hills are very alive

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Farm course: Sir Michael Hill at his new Par 3 course

THE New Zealand Open provides a double dose of excitement for golf-mad jeweller Sir Michael Hill.

Tomorrow he’s hosting the first event at his new nine-hole course, The Farm — a Par-3 tournament with past NZ Open champions in the field.

Then from Thursday his championship course, The Hills, co-hosts the 100th Open alongside Millbrook Resort.

That includes the final two days which for the past two years were hosted exclusively at Millbrook.

On the eve of both courses co-hosting the Open for the first time, in 2014, Hill announced plans for a nine-hole course modelled after Augusta National Golf Club’s par-three course in the United States.

He hoped it could host a par-three curtain-raiser to the Open, similar to the one staged at Augusta each year before the famed US Masters.

Hill’s dream will now be realised tomorrow, The Farm having been completed under budget, in less than two years, on “neglected” farmland over the hill from The Hills’ 18th.

The design, by world-renowned Planet Golf author Darius Oliver, has left Hill “completely flabbergasted”.

“It’s because it looks like nothing’s ever been touched, but it has been, and that’s the incredible thing.

“The greens are remarkable, they’re so pure it’s like carpet, and there’s $100 for every weed you find.”

A massive double green, for the first and eighth holes, is a stand-out feature, along with every hole weaving around the old Arrow irrigation water race, and the lack of tee markers.

And did we mention the amazing views?

“When you’re physically on it, it’s like a religious experience.

“It really is something different, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it quickly becomes rated one of the top par-three courses in the world.”

At tomorrow’s free event, where Hill will play alongside some up-and-coming golfers, “I think I’ve got the dreadful privilege of hitting the first ball”, he says.

“We hope everyone will come and enjoy it — we’re really looking forward to celebrating with the public.”

As for co-hosting the 100th Open, Hills calls it a privilege — “I’m very humble about it”.

He first hosted the tournament in 2007, just after The Hills, which is effectively his backyard, opened for play.

In the first few years, he also underwrote the tournament “for a significant amount of money” — a responsibility Millbrook owner Eiichi Ishii has since taken over.

The fact he’s still hosting it 12 years later is “better than my wildest dreams”, he says.

“We always try to be better here, but when you’ve got the 100th Open, you’ve got to absolutely make sure the course is in sublime condition.”

He gives a lot of credit to his team of about 35 greenkeepers, whom he says cut the greens three times a day during the tournament, including even a night-time cut.

As the Open wraps up at The Hills on Sunday, there’ll again be the amazing sight of course marshalls swarming down the 18th fairway.

In past years, Hill’s joined them, dressed variously as a racing driver in his sports car, as a greenkeeper and as a soldier in military garb with a tin helmet.

“This year we’ll do something a bit different, too, which will be quite amazing.”