• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Michael Hendry. Photo/Supplied

What does it feel like for a Kiwi to win the NZ Open?

Many are called, few will win, and even fewer Kiwi golfers have become New Zealand Open champion. Of the thousands of local and international players who have teed off in its first 100 editions, just 60 have won, and only 21 of them have been New Zealanders. After a 14-year drought for local players, Michael Hendry became the latest Kiwi champion in 2017, when he won over fellow New Zealander Ben Campbell and Australian Brad Kennedy in a dramatic playoff. A tough pragmatist, who had already won big tournaments, including the 2010 Indonesian Open, Hendry found himself deeply and unexpectedly moved as he was handed the Brodie Breeze Cup. “It all came out; I’ve never cried when I’ve won a golf tournament, but even now I get emotional thinking about it. It was a relief, followed by an outpouring of emotion — this was the NZ Open, and to have my family there with me made it one of the most special days of my life.”
Photo/Supplied

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.

Photo/Supplied

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.

Peter Thomson. Photo/Supplied

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.”