NZ Golf pins hope on new star emerging at Royal Wellington

25 Oct, 2017 11:11 AM
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THE FIRST fairway mowers will spark into life at 4.30am at Royal Wellington on Thursday, headlights blazing.

By Sunday afternoon one lucky golfer will be pinching himself on the 18th green, clutching the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship trophy with his place assured at next year's Masters Tournament at Augusta, and Open Championship at Carnoustie.

New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy is excited enough about that thought, and increasingly confident it will be one of the 10 Kiwis in a field of 119 booking their golden ticket.

Royal Wellington has finally handed over its course to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and Masters Tournament officials who pour millions of dollars into the APAC which tees off on Thursday.

The ninth edition will be hosted in New Zealand for the first time, which means 10 spots for the home country and six to everyone else including Australia, China, Japan and South Korea.

"A lot of our players are experienced and have played this event before. They won't be overawed at all, they're at home and they'll feel comfortable," Murphy said.

"We've had them here a lot over the last two years so they know the course inside out. If it's all going to click, this is when it should. There's a couple of them running pretty hot and I'd expect them play quite well here."

Top of that list is Aucklander Nick Voke, ranked 44 in the world after a glittering career with Iowa State University. He's already through to the second stage of qualifying for a pro career on the secondary Web.com Tour in the US but will have to retain his amateur status till next July to play the Masters and Open if he wins this week.

Toughest to beat will be the two top-ranked Australians Travis Smyth (world No 12) and Harrison Endycott (world No 14), while New Zealanders Daniel Hillier (67) and Ryan Chisnall (81) are the next best-ranked Kiwis.

Hillier, who was New Zealand amateur champion at age 17, is the big local hope and even worked on the Royal Wellington greens in recent months. He and Chisnall played in the US this year and Voke is one of five US college-based players returning.

"It's an opportunity that a lot of professionals who play their whole career don't get. It's pretty special and gives them the chance to play the two most famous major championships. It's amazing for their career and sets them up past those events," Murphy said.

Promoting golf tourism to overseas viewers - there is 16 hours of TV coverage beamed to 150 countries - is another big one for NZ Golf.

The course

Royal Wellington course superintendent John Spraggs will have 16 fulltime staff and 21 volunteers helping him this week. A $6.5 million redesign helped the club snare its biggest event since the 1995 New Zealand Open.

Fine weather last week was welcomed after the course was doused with 1520mm of rain this year -- up from the annual average of 1250mm.

"I'm pretty upbeat after all our preparation work. We were fortunate we had the resources and support of the club," Spraggs said.

As much as 3.5km of sand and gravel drainage was installed last summer in anticipation of the winter wet.

The fairways are soft in parts but the tiered greens are in top order and if the weather holds, low scores are expected.

Spraggs' team will work from 4.30am -- three hours before tee off -- till well after dark. He's seen how a big tournament runs after he was a guest of the Masters at Augusta in April.

He was one of 140 volunteers, working from 5am till 9pm for 10 days, who joined the 120 permanent staff.

"I learned many hands make light work. It's incredible the attention to detail and the surfaces; you walk on it and you think it's artificial. It can't be real. It's immaculate."

- The Dominion Post (The Post and TurfCraft are Fairfax Media publications).

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