New Zealand Open tournament director Michael Glading will head to Asia next week in a bid to attract some professional firepower for the event, to be held at the upgraded Millbrook courses in early March.

It’ll be the first time the Arrowtown resort, owned by the Japanese Ishii family, has sole hosting rights – as part of its latest five-year agreement with Golf NZ. 

That was after a seven-year run as co-host with Michael Hill-owned The Hills.

Rounds will be played across the resort’s two 18-hole championship courses in the Bob Charles-designed Remarkables and recently completed sister course at Coronet, which added nine new holes and opened for play last October.

The 2023 event will also be the 10th time Glading (69) will be involved with the co-sanctioned Australasian and Asian tour event since being brought on board by then underwriter Michael Hill 12 years ago. 

When it was sanctioned by the Australasian tour in 2011, prize money was $450,000. 

This year, the purse will be about $1.6 million, up from $1.4m in 2020. Under the PGA formula, the winner takes 18% of that, or $288,000. 

Second place will take home 10.8% ($172,800) with 60th and final place guaranteed 0.22% of the pie – or $3,520.

To help get the competition off the tee in 2011, the John Key-led National government committed to $950,000 in event funding. That has since dropped to $600,000 as part of a step-down process. 

Glading said that contribution has more than been offset by commercial contributions. Rod Duke’s Rebel Sports was an early sponsor, and Millbrook, as the host, underwrites the tournament to the tune of $5m.

He acknowledges, however, that after a two-year covid-enforced hiatus, it might not be an easy sell for the tier one event.

Travel subsidy

That is potentially made harder because the NZ Open is the only championship in the world that runs as a Pro-Am. Players also generally front their own travel and accommodation money and the tournament doesn’t pay appearance fees.

Many of the 20 professional and 20 amateur Japanese players do, however, receive a travel subsidy, because the event is seen as a warm-up for the Japan tour.

The event pairs 156 paying amateurs with professionals across a best-ball format. That is pared back to 60 professionals for the final two days of play at Millbrook. The top 40 Pro-Am teams will head into day three and only 10 on the final day. 

Amateurs who miss the two-round teams cut will have the option of a third round at The Hills in a separate one-day Pro-Am event.

Glading said while the amateur side of the equation is sold out, there were still question marks as to the professional field. Veteran NZ pro Steven Alker and defending 2020 winner, Australian Brad Kennedy will make an appearance, as will KJ Choi, under a sponsor invite.

He said red-hot Kiwi star Ryan Fox has expressed his interest in competing, but that may not work with his playing calendar, following his Alfred Dunhill Links Championship win earlier this month, bringing offers to play in the US.

Golf ambassadors

As part of the recruitment process, Glading will spend the next several weeks at tournaments in Japan, Australia and Jakarta, Indonesia. He will be joined in Japan by former NZ ambassador to Japan Ian Kennedy. 

Glading’s hunting ground is practice rounds and on the driving range from 8am to 4pm.

Kennedy has also been instrumental in opening doors to Japanese sponsors with interests in NZ, including Sumitomo Forestry and Oji. 

"The profile of the game has never been higher and the success of Steve Alker, Lydia Ko and Ryan Fox is a big part of that. We've always had the Bob Charleses of the world, but to have three in one go is rare and helps us grow at grass-roots level.”

The format has long been a subject of debate, but Glading said it’s proven popular with amateurs and pros alike, the main drawcard being the venue itself.

He said the main challenge over the past 12 years has been convincing people that the pro-am format won’t detract from the actual event. 

“But at the end of the tournament, come Sunday, the most memorable thing is the professional holding the trophy.”

The 18th at the Remarkables, "the venue is a big part of the attraction". (Image: BusinessDesk)

The organisers are keen to attract top professionals to the tour, but Glading believes a field of 156 is “too many”.

“If I had my way, it would be less than that, as it makes for an awfully long day for everybody, particularly with only two courses in operation. We’re already stretched and if there’s a weather delay then we do have a major problem.”

The music of golf

Glading has a significant golfing pedigree: his dad, Bob Glading, won the New Zealand Open in successive years – in 1946 as an amateur, and then again in 1947.

Michael Glading started caddying for Sir Bob Charles during his university days, leading to a 30-year stint carrying the bag across a host of major events, including the British Open and Ryder Cup.

His career, however, has been in the music industry, including as chief executive of Sony Music for 19 years. After that, he organised live concerts, followed by a three-year stint as chief executive of NZ Football.

Glading said doing live outdoor shows, such as Luciano Pavarotti or Stevie Nicks, wasn’t hugely different to running a golf event.

“It sounds easy to put on a golf tournament, but it needs the right sustainable model; it needs a good brand and a strong financial base.”

Entry to the event is free for spectators. It would be nice if the weather played ball, too, Glading said.