250 volunteers miss Open cut

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Declining sponsorship means 250 fewer local volunteers will make the cut for next month’s New Zealand Open golf tournament at Arrowtown.

Rather than the 700 volunteers at 2007’s first Open on jeweller Michael Hill’s private course, “we’ll get by with 450”, says Australian-based promoter Bob Tuohy.

“Instead of 15 or 20 people at the 17th hole, we require five.”

Volunteers don’t come free, he explains, as the event budget has to cover their lunches and uniforms.

Comprising mainly Otago/Southland golf club members, Open volunteers have a range of duties from crowd control and ball-spotting to scoring and driving players around.

Probably reflecting recessionary times, sponsorship for the March 12-15 event “is not as strong as we want”, Tuohy says.

“A lot of [sponsors] who were on the borderline have said ‘no’ or want to pay less.”

Two sizeable sponsors, who he won’t reveal, have pulled out, although new companies have come aboard.
Because the tournament dates have changed and its co-sanction partner switched from the European Tour to the American Nationwide Tour, sponsorship contracts have had to be rewritten.

Jeweller Hill’s own financial contribution has reduced, while “others have stayed [the same] and some have gone up”.

Equipment hire costs have also risen because of a clash of dates with the Ellerslie International Flower Show in Christchurch.

“Queenstown is a very expensive area to stage a major event – it’s probably 35 per cent more expensive across the board than Christchurch.”

Tuohy won’t talk figures but the first Open reportedly cost $4 million to stage.

However, he says the falling Kiwi dollar is the biggest financial headache. “We have to buy our prize money – $US600,000 – in NZ dollars, and we did our budgeting around the 70-cent mark, and last week that was about 55 [cents].”

Due to cost-cutting – like reducing volunteers and “some little niceties nobody will notice” – Tuohy is still confident the tournament will again finish in the black.

He’s confident once more of 40,000-plus spectators and says a bonus this year will be a two-and-a-half-hour concert by Arrow­town band Lynch Mob after play finishes on both the Saturday and Sunday.

The field will also be “infinitely stronger” – support from European Tour players was disappointing “but with the Nationwide Tour, these guys are one heartbeat from [the US PGA Tour]”.

TV coverage into North America will also be massive. “And the presentation ceremony this year will blow you away.”