Defending champion Michael Hendry believes the strongest contingent of golfers from the Japan Tour are heading to Queenstown for the 2018 ISPS Handa New Zealand Open in March.
Hendry, who became the first Kiwi in 14 years to win the Open after a playoff last year, plays in Japan and is among 25 players from that tour to compete in Queenstown.
The 99th Open, to be staged at Millbrook Resort and The Hills on March 1-4, is co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Asian Tour and continues its partnership with the Japan Golf Tour.
The Japan Tour contingent features nine of the top-20 from last year's money list, including four of the top 10. They have collectively won 62 professional tournaments and more than $80 million in career earnings between them on the Japan Tour.
"The Japan Tour is exceptional and I am incredibly impressed with the quality and the depth on the tour since I've been playing there," said Hendry.
"I've played around the world and I am very much enjoying the challenge on the Japan Tour. I am fully tested there every week.
"The players coming here this year are probably the strongest that have ever come to New Zealand. There's no golf in Japan right now and the tour players are looking for quality tournament play. They love coming to Queenstown and they are definitely coming in force this year."
They are led by Hawaii-born Chan Kim, who enjoyed three wins and five top-10s in Japan in 2017, while Steven Han, Ryu Hyun-woo and Daisuke Kataoka all secured victories on the Japan Tour last year. Kim, Han, Hyun-woo, Ryukyu Tokimatsu and Young-Han Song finished in the top-11 on the money list in 2017 and between them, the group had 21 top-10 finishes in Japan last year.
The group also includes two of the Japan Tour's most enduringly successful players in Australian Brendan Jones and Kim Kyung-tae. The pair has won 27 times between them in Japan.
Tournament director Michael Glading is thrilled with the players coming from the Japan Tour.
"At the sharp end, players like Steven Han, Chan Kim and Ryu Hyun-woo are absolute top quality players," said Glading. "Chan Kim is one of the biggest hitters around and he is destined for bigger things. Spectators are in for a treat watching him. He's built like an NBA star."
The Japan tour players join the likes of Korean great KJ Choi, Aussie Scott Hend and Kiwis Ryan Fox, Tim Wilkinson and Steven Alker in a good field.