David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

Golf: NZ Open to remain in Queenstown for next decade

The New Zealand Open will remain in Queenstown for at least the next 10 years, while organising committee chairman John Hart is committed to keeping the tournament in the tourist hot-spot "forever".

Hart confirmed the two Arrowtown golf clubs, The Hills and Millbrook, will continue to host the event for four more years, with consideration given to adding a third course beyond that term.

''I personally think we will stay in Queenstown forever," said Hart.

"I'm very committed to keeping the tournament in Queenstown.

"We're here for 10 years at least. We're looking to do a five plus five deal with New Zealand Golf.

''Longer-term, I would love to go to three courses. Jack's Point would obviously be the logical place to go.

"Jack's Point is a beautiful golf course. We have initiated discussions about that but we don't have a time frame on that.''

While Hart is keen bringing a third course into the mix, he remains wary about the costs involved, with financial priority given to increasing the $1 million prize purse to help attract the world's best golfers.

"To go to three courses sounds good, but you have got huge television costs, huge logistical and travel cost," he said.

''(We) Just have to be realistic about it. I'd like to do it when I know we have got the financial soundness to say, 'yep, we can do that'.

"We just want to keep growing slowly. We want to keep growing our prize money; we started at $450,000 five years ago.

"(Our) Strategic aim is to be the best tournament experience in Asia-Pacific.

"We have to understand the rationale of our size, we just cannot try to grow too much and be too big. We must make the tournament financially sustainable."

Luring bigger name players is an obvious goal, but Hart is satisfied with the calibre of this year's field, and ruled out paying appearance money to boost the tournament's status or changing the dates to accommodate players.

Thirteen of the top 15-ranked Kiwis are present this year, with Danny Lee and Tim Wilkinson the only notable omissions. Seven winners on Japan Tour are also in attendance.

''We're delighted with where we are at. The professional field that we have attracted here is the best we have had.

''Danny Lee is very keen to come and play this tournament, it's just a matter of timing, and that's always an issue.

''We're not going to pay appearance money, because I'm afraid a small tournament like this will go broke once we start doing that.

''Our prize money is slowly getting to where people realise it's a worthwhile tournament.

''I make no apology that we're not going to try and buy a player just to try and get some gates."

Currently, both The Hills and Millbrook share the four-day tournament's two opening rounds, with play shifting to The Hills for the two final days, but change is imminent.

From next year, the two final rounds will be played at Millbrook, and the closing rounds will alternate between the two neighbouring courses each year after throughout the remaining four-year cycle.

''We are passing the baton to Millbrook, who are taking over the underwrite the tournament," Hart explained.

"Millbrook will host four days next year, The Hills four days the following year, for the next at least four year cycle we will go alternate."

- NZ Herald

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