Free for all
The prize money is big – nearly $1.5 million – but for golf fans, old and new, this year’s NZ Open will literally be priceless. The Open will be played for the ninth year at The Hills and Millbrook – spectacular courses near Queenstown in the shadow of the Remarkables – and for the first time there will be free entry for the public. Tournament director Michael Glading says the $5 million event is now so established and well supported commercially that, for the 101st edition, the gates can be opened. “Millbrook in particular are very keen to get people to come and experience the Open, even if they’re not huge golf fans. It’s one of the things we hear time and again – people who are not really golf lovers come to the tournament and love it. It is such a great experience, such a great event.” Fans should still bring their wallets as there will be a charge for car parking, but all proceeds will go to the Rotary Club of Queenstown to distribute.
The name on the cup
The NZ Open has been our country’s greatest golfing prize for more than a century. And since 1907, only 60 players have known the honour of winning it. Some, like its first winner, the amateur A. D. S. Duncan, won it more than once. But four, including Duncan himself, never lifted the Open’s prize, the handsome silver trophy with the striking name: the Brodie Breeze Challenge Cup. It has been presented only since 1923, and only after a wily Scotsman with an eye for the main chance donated it. In February that year, George Brodie Breeze, the owner of golf club makers G. Brodie Breeze and Co. of Glasgow, wrote, out of the blue, to our Golf Association offering as the Open’s trophy “a silver cup to the value of 50 guineas” (around $5500 today). Wisely, the association said yes, and New Zealand golf got its preeminent prize. Meanwhile the shrewd Scot has had nearly a century of prized publicity, promotion that continues long after he and his clubs have faded into history. Not bad for 50 guineas.
The greatest player
Sir Bob Charles. Michael Campbell. Tiger Woods. If you were going to pick the greatest modern-era golfer to have played in the NZ Open, they’d all be in the running. But the honour of greatest Open winner must fall to a player few outside of the game now remember: Peter Thomson. An Australian, and five- time British Open champion, he won the NZ Open more than any other player. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Thomson, fellow Australian Kel Nagle and Charles battled for the title, with Charles winning four Opens, Nagle seven, and Thomson an astonishing nine, a record which has stood since 1971. But it wasn’t his only achievement. Thomson, who died in 2018, remains the only modern-era golfer to win a major three times in succession, the British Open in 1954, 1955 and 1956. All that, and he was a gent too. Sir Bob remembers him as “one of the most articulate fellow pros that I knew and had the pleasure of spending a lot of time playing against.”