PM swings towards The Hills for retaining golf’s NZ Open

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Prime Minister John Key is a fan of golf’s New Zealand Open remaining at The Hills private course near Arrowtown. 

The day after mega-jeweller Michael Hill launched his “Save Our Open” online campaign, NZ’s leading politician chipped in his thoughts about keeping the money-spinning tournament in the Wakatipu. 

“I’ve said to NZ Golf it’s a great way to showcase NZ, with a huge viewing audience,” Key told Mountain Scene last Friday, while in Queenstown for the official opening of Winter Festival. 

“It represents the summer and winter dimensions of Queenstown. 

“We can’t make NZ Golf come here but we certainly wouldn’t be opposed if they did. 

“And if it was The Hills I would probably turn up like I did last time.” 

Told that Hill is after $400,000 to have a shot at keeping the Open, Key replied: “We put in money last year – I think it was $100,000. 

“If he’s talking that sort of number, we wouldn’t rule out putting in some money,” he says. 

Hill’s three-tournament deal expired with this year’s Open in January. 

As rumours swirl that Christchurch City Council is close to securing the event for its Clearwater course, Hill last week told Mountain Scene he was pitching for the next five Opens. 

But he wants to ditch co-sanctioning partner, America’s second-tier Nationwide Tour, for the growing OneAsia circuit. 

The Hills boss Sam Gent says they also want the Open to secure a shoulder-season date in November, starting next year. 

Hill has had a good response to his “Save Our Open” campaign, including two offers of “substantial sponsorship”, Gent says. 

“But I’m not telling you how much it is,” she adds. 

A OneAsia tournament is likely to require $US1 million in prize money as against the last Open’s $US600,000 purse. 

Gent says she and Hill were happy with their meeting with NZ Golf boss Dean Murphy at The Hills on Monday. 

Gent and Hill now plan trying to lock down a date with OneAsia and line up Hill to meet PM Key, she says. 

Murphy won’t comment on Monday’s meeting. NZ Golf is still working on confirming a sanctioning partner, a date and a venue, he says. 

“It’s taken a lot longer than we’d hoped.” 

Hill told a Winter Festival business luncheon last Friday that hosting the event at his Arrowtown course costs $4 million and he had a $400,000 shortfall. 

“The money is just about all there, the strategy is in place. There is a local shortfall now that will have to be coughed up.” 

Asked where he wanted it to come from – either council or individuals, he said: “That would be perfect. We 
don’t care how we get it.”