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The New Zealand Open is set to be piggybacked into world golf's upper stratosphere by the European PGA Tour.

New Zealand Golf chief executive Larry Graham is close to stitching a deal that will see the January 20-23 Australasian PGA Tour event co-sanctioned by the world's second largest tour.

Gulf Harbour, on Auckland's Whangaparoa Peninsula, could expect to play host to several high profile European Tour stars if Graham were successful.

Graham was reluctant to discuss the matter yesterday, saying negotiations were at a delicate stage.

However, he confirmed he was in Australia trying to seal what would potentially become a significant coup for the game in New Zealand.

"There's no deal at the moment but I'm in Australia trying to make sure it happens and we're very hopeful it will," Graham said.

It is understood European Tour officials want the New Zealand Open to replace the canned ANZ Championship, one of two Australasian events co-sanctioned by the European PGA.

For that to happen Graham will probably need to source an additional $1 million in prizemoney to bolster the New Zealand Open purse to $1.7 million.

The New Zealand Open would follow the Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne, won in February by world No 3 Ernie Els for the third successive time.

Six-time major championship winner Nick Faldo, former British Open champions Paul Lawrie and Sandy Lyle and popular Italian Constantino Rocca were other headline acts at Royal Melbourne.

The New Zealand Open field is unlikely to attract names such as Els or regular Australian visitor Colin Montomgerie given a reluctance and financial inability to pay the appearance money demanded by the game's biggest stars.

However, February's ANZ Championship in New South Wales included crowd pullers such as Rocca, Lyle, 2001 Masters champion Ian Woosnam and Frenchman Thomas Levet.

This year's $700,000 New Zealand Open at the Grange in Auckland boasted fewer than 10 players ranked inside the world's top 100, while previous co-sanctioned events in Australia have attracted up to 40.

Were European backing gained, the 88th New Zealand Open would become this country's richest tournament, surpassing the $1.125 million New Zealand PGA Championship at Clearwater in Christchurch, a tournament co-sanctioned by the Australasian and the secondary United States Nationwide tours.

Although the European Tour plays second fiddle to the US PGA Tour in terms of prestige and prizemoney, it has grown into a truly global circuit with tournaments in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Dubai, Qatar and South Africa last year.

- NZPA