PARTING SHOT: Business of pro-am golf

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Golf’s been oiling the wheels of business for eons.
 
And so it is that the New Zealand PGA Pro-Am Championship held in the Wakatipu last weekend wasn’t just about golf – or a bunch of rich pricks with too much time on their hands wiling away an afternoon or two.

This new tournament, which combines the long-running NZ PGA Champs alongside a separate but simultaneous pro-am competition, is being viewed as a major business and branding opportunity for Queenstown – and the whole country. 

And it’s for the very simple reason that Asian corporates love their golf – and, as Sports Minister Murray McCully noted, for the first time in New Zealand’s history our geography is now a major strategic advantage. 

“Events like this are ones that we continue to want to invest in because they make a big statement about our tourism brand – but also we’re able to attract businesspeople from the region that is increasingly the focus of our economic attention, “ McCully told media during a sit-down at the Jack’s Point golf course clubhouse last Friday.

“We live on the rim of the fast-growing Asian region and businesspeople are golfers. This event provides a unique leverage opportunity.” 

The first event went pretty well and garnered decent profile given it was pulled together in about four months.

Within that time frame, they assembled a credible field of pros and big-name Kiwi amateurs along with Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor Don Cheadle. It’ll be interesting to see who they can, er, tee up for 2013 given they’ve got 12 months now to organise the next one. 

Organisers wouldn’t have quite got the numbers through the gate they were hoping for, particularly given the balmy weather, but it’s not a bad start. 

And it’s a tournament that’s certainly piqued the interest of senior-ranking Government MPs like McCully. 

The Government’s Major Events Fund tipped in more than $500,000 for this year’s event – and all indications are there’ll be more where that came from. 

McCully was enthused after being given a personal tour of host course The Hills near Arrowtown by its owner Sir Michael Hill. 

“You could not wish for a better presentation of New Zealand to international media and to businesspeople. I’m hugely supportive of taking this event forward.” 

If there was any other indicator needed about how highly the Government rates the opportunities associated with having the event in Queenstown and making sure it becomes something special one need only check out who else happened to be in town when it kicked off. 

It wasn’t just McCully down making sure good use was being made of the half million. Prime Minister John Key, also the Tourism Minister, played the seeding round with the amateurs on Friday. 

Tournament organising committee chair John Hart: “To get the Prime Minister playing in this day says a lot.” 

Mind you, Key was having a rough week with the ACC debacle so a round in the sun in paradise probably seemed like a good way to go. 

But the fact is Key knows how important golf can be when it comes to oiling the wheels of business. The former high-flying currency trader learned to play the game when he realised it was top-of-the-pops with plenty of successful businesspeople. 

Hart, fresh from helping leverage the business and branding opportunities for New Zealand during last year’s Rugby World Cup, has set his sights on making this golf tournament an event that won’t just be a great spectacle but also useful economically. 

Hart and Hill are both beating the drum for more money from Government – if anyone can prise it loose, it’s probably them. 

“This is a Queenstown New Zealand Inc strategy,” Hart says. 

Now it just needs Queenstown to get really enthusiastic about it – only time will tell on that front.