Golf event tots up $2m in Govt aid

By Steve Deane

Michael Hill-hosted NZ Open pro am wants $1.5m for next tournament despite missing targets for three years.

Sir Michael Hill's course in Queenstown plays host each year to business heavyweights and international celebrities. Photo / Getty Images
Sir Michael Hill's course in Queenstown plays host each year to business heavyweights and international celebrities. Photo / Getty Images

A golf tournament hosted by Sir Michael Hill at his private course near Queenstown has received more than $2 million from the taxpayer over the past three years despite consistently failing to meet performance targets attached to the funding.

This year's New Zealand Open pro am - which featured wealthy business people and celebrities such as former Australian cricket captains Ricky Ponting and Allan Border playing alongside professional golfers and business heavyweights at Queenstown courses The Hills and Millbrook - received $900,000 from the Major Events Development Fund (MEDF).

Organisers have applied for another $1.5 million to bankroll next year's event, with the additional $600,000 to be used to fund live television coverage.

Documents received by the Herald under the Official Information Act show a $650,000 grant for the 2013 NZPGA pro-am - which this year became the NZ Open pro am - was recommended by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) despite an acknowledgement in a confidential assessment briefing that the 2012 tournament had "failed to attract the intended spectator numbers".

A payment of $500,000 from the MEDF in 2012 assisted with relocating the tournament to Queenstown. The 2800 tickets sold for the 2012 event were short of projections.

An increased payment of $650,000 for the following year was approved despite the 2012 tournament also having failed to meet firm requirements that included gaining membership of the lucrative One Asia tour and the development of a financial sustainability plan that showed it could eventually operate without government support.

Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce, who signed off on the funding, said organisers had not yet reported back on whether this year's tournament had achieved its targets.

"It's an event which always looks close to getting where it has got to go," Mr Joyce said.

"It is showing enough progress that is worth supporting still. There will be a point where we say this thing has had enough of a go, it needs to succeed. In the meantime they are seeking support for the TV rights and we will look at that. There is a natural limit to it."

The tournament director for the NZPGA and NZ Open, Michael Glading, said the true value of the events was hard to judge, however the taxpayer "absolutely" received value for money. "Any taxpayer funding these days, there has got to be a really strong economic benefit," Mr Glading said.

He cited a visit by the chairman of Korean technology giant Samsung as an example of the benefits the tournaments could produce. A one-hour highlights package that screened throughout Asia and on planes to "huge audiences" showcased New Zealand as a golf-tourism destination.

"There is overseas money already starting to flow, both from sponsorship and tourism," Mr Glading said.

David Higgins, whose company Duco Events established the successful NRL Auckland Nines tournament, slammed the continued golf funding. Applications by Duco and Auckland Council's events arm Ateed for seed funding to help establish the Nines were rejected by the MEDF.

Mr Higgins found it hard to see how the golf tournaments qualified for funding when the Nines, which projected far greater returns for taxpayers' dollars, didn't.

Crown funding

• 2012: NZPGA $500,000
• 2013: NZPGA $650,000
• 2014: NZ Open $900,000
• 2015: NZ Open (tournament has applied for $1.5 million).

- NZ Herald

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