New Zealand Open - Rules Blog

NZ Open – Rules Blog

By New Zealand Golf’s Phil Aickin

This is always an important week in the year for New Zealand Golf, but more so in 2011. Our national open championship has been played since 1907 and all golfers, media and sports enthusiasts look forward to a celebration of the game and to following the fortunes of local players. The Trophy was presented by Scotsman Brodie Breeze in the 1930’s and features the names of  not only some of the pioneers of the game in this country, A.D.S Duncan and Andy Shaw, but world renowned legends such as South African Bobby Locke, Australians Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle and of course our own Bob Charles and Michael Campbell.

But this year the event means so much more, returning to the City of Christchurch for the first time in 25 years. This great City was devastated, firstly on 4 September last year when a 7.1 earthquake struck and then on 22 February of this year another strong earthquake took 181 precious lives. Aftershocks went on for months as the people of Christchurch tried to recover. Their historic rugby stadium was damaged beyond repair and all Rugby World Cup games scheduled for the City were transferred to other venues around the country. So just over nine months later, the BMW New Zealand Open hosted at Clearwater is the first major sporting event in this City since the tragic events of February.

Our week here started with Final Qualifying at Russley Golf Club on Monday where 72 players competed for the final 19 places in the field. These days can provide drama and much interest and as the scores were returned it looked like 11 golfers would play off for the final place in the field. However, 15 year old school boy Jason Yoo playing in the final group handed in a one under par 71, giving us an exact 19 players. So the 11 who shot 73, feeling a little dejected then played off for the alternate places in the field and six holes later we had the order we needed.

The New Zealand Open is not comparable in scale to an Open Championship or Presidents Cup, but like most professional events when you erect marquees, signage and fly flags it lifts the atmosphere and this year had a very special feel to it. We have certainly had stronger fields, but we went in to the event with 48 New Zealanders competing, 17 of them amateurs and with the last local winner being Mahal Pearce in 2003, hopes were high for a good result come Sunday. Sir Bob Charles won his first New Zealand Open as an 18 year-old amateur in 1954 so who knows, our best amateurs are comfortable at this level and we may see one of them in contention over the final nine holes. New Zealanders also hoped that one of our favourite sons, Michael Campbell, would return to form and not only make the weekend field but also contend come Sunday. Sadly, this was not to be.

BlogJunior Golf is important to all of us and on Tuesday we invited 24 of the best junior golfers in Christchurch to join eight tournament players. We are proud of Michael Campbell and his feats, even though he is not playing his best, but his availability and involvement in any New Zealand Open is always appreciated. Cambo joined Josh Geary, Mahal Pearce, Nick Gillespie, Doug Holloway, Jim Cusdin, Ryan Fox and Ben Campbell to interact and play five holes with the kids. The smiles on their faces showed that the experience will be remembered for a very long time and I am sure of the 24 a number of them will one day play in this championship. Feedback from one young boy was “that was the best day of my life.”

This week we are joined by the staff of the Australasian PGA Tour and it is always good to have their expertise. They play an important role in ensuring the course is defined accurately making it fair for all players and ensuring that possible rules incidents are avoided or at least manageable. The tournament signage and television towers are temporary immovable obstructions (TIO’s) and to give sponsors and viewers the best coverage they can be located very close to play. We invite local referees to assist, but for day one we had an experienced team of rules officials ready to patrol the course for speed of play and for rulings that will inevitably arise. Clearwater features water on most holes so we expect water hazard and TIO’s to dominate the rulings that will be required.

Wednesday featured the sponsor’s Pro-Am day, with the day sunny but windy making scoring very difficult. Behind the scenes, finishing touches we added to the Local Rules and our local referees were briefed and given the opportunity to spend time on the course running through various scenarios.

Thursday and round one of the BMW New Zealand Open was underway. The conditions were benign until 10.00am, when a fresh north easterly wind arrived providing a real challenge for the rest of the day. I patrolled the zone which included holes 1,2, 8 and 9, which provided very little Rules work. The first is a short par 4 with little trouble and the 2nd a reachable par 5 which was playing down wind making most of the trouble out of play. However the 8th is a 372m par 4 which played in to the wind and for early players was a short iron approach, but it wasn’t too long until it played much more difficult and when the marquee group including Michael Campbell came through it was playing mean. Water all the way down the right and the pin tucked left against an awaiting bunker and the average score started to escalate. Cambo hit rescue off the tee followed by another rescue to the green, an illustration of the way the hole had changed. The 9th is a 188m par 3 and once the wind arrived the sound of metal clubs being hit from that tee became the norm. The other norm was the regular play from the drop zone which was added as an extra hazard relief option if a player’s ball had not crossed the hazard margin on the greenside.

BlogFor those that follow rugby you will know that the colours of Canterbury are red and black, so on Thursday we asked all players to support a fund raising appeal for the City of Christchurch and wear those colours. A great number did and spectators and players were generous in their donations. We completed the day with a hangi, inviting all Kiwi players in the field to interact with sponsors and tournament staff which was a new initiative and something that will become a regular part of the week.

Friday dawned calm with fog delaying play by 15 minutes. Surely someone would make a big move in the morning, and there were a few, but as happens at Clearwater the wind and water eventually plays a factor and through two rounds the best score was still only a four under par 68. My duties at the event finished on this day as I returned to Auckland to pack for a quick two day trip to Melbourne, Australia for my niece Alice’s wedding. So I departed disappointed that I would miss the weekend, but with excitement for a family occasion that was going to be very special.

We arrived in Melbourne in the late morning and after preparing for a family BBQ, I managed to dominate the TV remote and put the live coverage of the BMW New Zealand Open on. It was good to sit and observe the course from the lounge, knowing which tower most shots had been captured from and the challenges and risks required on the latter holes. My challenge now was to see how I could attend the wedding and follow the leaderboard at the same time!

BlogThe wedding of the new James and Alice Champion was like a fairy tale, just beautiful with so many special touches. This deviation certainly took my mind away from the event but a few text messages and the odd sneaky look at the leaderboard and I was able to keep in touch with the final day events. Craig Parry made all the early running and as the most experienced player in the field looked like he may win his second New Zealand Open, the other being in 2002 when Tiger Woods famously competed. From this distance it seemed a three way competition with overnight leader Brad Kennedy and New Zealand’s Josh Geary keeping Parry honest. For most of the day Parry was in charge but a final hole double bogey when his approach shot found water, opened the door for the other two. Kennedy made what was described as a miracle up and down on the 17th then completed the back nine with his ninth successive par. On the same hole Geary was tied for the lead but his drive found a watery grave and he would finish in third place, one shot out of a playoff. But it was Kennedy who took the opportunity, thinking at the 17th that his chances were over, his par save there, the Parry double at the last and then a 10m birdie putt on the first hole of sudden death rewarded him with the Brodie Breeze Trophy and the 2011 BMW New Zealand Open title.

As I sign off I hear news of more earthquakes at home. None near the strength of what hit Christchurch but powerful enough to remind New Zealanders that we certainly live on unstable ground at present. Fortunately the decision makers involved with the BMW New Zealand Open will be relieved and very pleased with an event that was delivered well and produced a worthy winner. So we look to 2012 and hope that will be the year that a Kiwi again wins our national open.