For the second time, Queenstown has revived a flagging national sports tournament only to frustratingly lose it to another venue.
First, we had Sir Michael Hill resuscitating the New Zealand Open golf tournament at The Hills, near Arrowtown.
By the third event, in 2010, Hill had it really humming only for NZ Golf to whisk it away to Clearwater in Christchurch, where it’s since seemingly died in a, er, hole.
Back in 2004, Queenstown also rescued the National Sevens which had been languishing in Palmerston North.
As rugby commentator Tony Johnson says in today’s edition, it had got so bad he’d wondered if the event even had a future.
Now that the tournament’s prospered in Queenstown, other centres want a slice of it, and lo and behold, Rotorua’s taking it off us for at least the next two years.
To his credit, Queenstown’s Sevens with Altitude organising committee chairman Clark Frew has been magnanimous with his public comments.
Unfortunately, what NZ Golf and the NZ Rugby Union don’t seem to grasp is it’s the attractiveness of Queenstown, the venue, that’s largely made these two events a success. Players want to come along with spectators and, in the case of the golf, volunteers too.
Listen to what big rugby names told this paper a year ago when asked about the possibility of Queenstown losing the sevens.
NZRU president and former All Black great Sir Bryan Williams: “Just talking amongst the teams and coaches and management, they’d be disappointed if it got moved somewhere else.”
Veteran NZ sevens coach Gordon Tietjens, who ironically lives in the same province as Rotorua, said he’d be disappointed if Queenstown dipped out.
The players loved coming here and were disappointed if they missed selection, he said.
Local-based former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains added: “I’m good friends with Sky Sport rugby boss Andrew Fyfe and he said that this is the best venue in NZ to have the sevens.
“It’s one of those tournaments, a little bit like the NZ Open – nobody wanted to know about it until The Hills made a success of it and nobody particularly wanted the sevens.”
So where to from here?
After losing the NZ Open, Hill embraced the idea – floated by former All Blacks coach John Hart – of a pro-am modelled on Scotland’s Alfred Dunhill Links and California’s AT&T Pebble Beach.
So was born the NZ PGA Championship, which Hill’s hosting for a second time next month.
Rather than hoping we’re one day awarded the sevens again, perhaps the excellent Sevens with Altitude committee could create their own event.
How about an invitation sevens or 10s tournament? For that, we could host teams from Asia or Australia, or corral some South Island provincial teams to help their preparation for the National Sevens.
The same committee organised the successful Classic All Blacks v French Classics game during the 2011 Rugby World Cup at the Recreation Ground – so they know how to put on events.
It’d be a pity if we couldn’t have some of the atmosphere we’ve enjoyed every January at the Rec Ground for the past nine years.
Not to forget the significant tourism boost it has provided each year.
Hill’s idea behind the NZ PGA Championship with its pro-am component was to create something that no one could steal from him.
Perhaps we need to think of some sort of similar replacement for the National Sevens – a new tournament called
‘Sevens with Altitude’?