After its inaugural visit to Whangārei on Sunday, the North Island Long Drive golf championship is here to stay.

Almost 30 of the country's best big hitters converged on Whangārei Golf Club in Tikipunga to compete for the North Island crown, sponsored by Bella Homes.

Players could compete in either a competitive men's, women's or master's division as well as a social 'Happy Gilmore' contest, based on the 1996 movie of the same name where golfers took a short run-up before hitting the ball.

The longest hit on the day belonged to 18-year-old Thomas Woods, who reached a huge 363m.


Popular in the United States, the aim of long drive was to hit a golf ball as far as you could within a measured grid which was usually about 50 metres wide. Hitters would be given three minutes to hit eight balls as far as they could with the longest shot falling within the grid being recorded.

About 50 people crowded the local club to witness the tournament's first outing beyond Auckland. After the competition had finished, it was announced Whangārei would be the home of the North Island tournament permanently.

"Whangārei, to us, is the hub of the north so when we got the response we did from the [Whangārei Golf Club], it was a no-brainer," event director Olna Ford said.

As a sport, long drive had been missing in New Zealand for about eight years before the organisation, International Golf Associates New Zealand (IGANZ), invested heavily in local and global competitions.

After her time as a performance athlete, Ford, who is the IGANZ owner and director, re-started the long drive scene in New Zealand with a national competition in May 2017. She also started the Long Blacks team, which was a group of 15 Kiwi hitters who would be the national long drive team.

The sport's calendar now featured five New Zealand tournaments including a North and South Island competition, as well as a transtasman battle between the Long Blacks and the Australian Long Ballers.

Local golfer Ben Kennedy proved his worth at the North Island Long Drive Championships on Sunday, making the top eight. Photo / Colin Babbott
Local golfer Ben Kennedy proved his worth at the North Island Long Drive Championships on Sunday, making the top eight. Photo / Colin Babbott

Ford was ecstatic at the turnout from both the players and fans, and said it was down to the support shown by the local club and sponsors.

"For me it's not about making money, it's about keeping it local and seeing local people support it, so it's great to see the whole tournament sponsored by locals."


After starting her organisation to help struggling golf courses, Ford's IGANZ brand was now in 12 countries and 24 events around the world. Despite her global presence, Ford said she enjoyed promoting the sport in her home country.

"It's great to see your brand all over the world but it's even better to see it in New Zealand, it's just got huge potential."

Three-time long drive world champion Phillis Meti was the main attraction at the day-long event, winning the women's division with a hit of 315m.

The 31-year-old Auckland-born golfer competes all over the world in long drive tournaments but said she was happy to be in more familiar conditions.

"To me, it's a true honour to be here," Meti said.

"I'm just super proud of our boys with the Long Blacks, they've been putting up some really good numbers."

Meti commended young Thomas Woods on his 363m hit which showed real promise for the future.

"The thing about long drive is, it's not a 18 hole thing ... it is three minutes and eight balls which will tell you whether you've got the goods or not.

"Thomas' hit was really good, those are very competitive numbers for overseas."

Meti hoped her success on the global stage would inspire the next generation of Kiwi long drivers to enter the sport.

"We've got so much talent and we have a lot of potential but it's the mental capacity of understanding how to get from where you are now to the next level, how your best ball becomes your usual ball."

Woods' couldn't replicate his monster hit in the finals and finished third behind Iain Dick in second with a hit of 343.5m and Remuera Golf Club green keeper Nick Hanna, hitting 352.5m.

For winning the event, both Meti and Hanna would be flown down to compete in the South Island tournament in Arrowtown on March 31.

If neither Meti or Hanna won the event, they would get a second chance and play the event's champion for a free entry into the national championships.


1st Phillis Meti (315m)
2nd Nicola Dick (298m)
3rd Kimberley O'Sullivan (296m)

1st George Mackay (328m)
2nd Ross Taylor (281m)
3rd Tony Makiha (278m)

1st Nick Hanna (352.5m)
2nd Iain Dick (343.5m)
3rd Thomas Woods (346.5m)