Mark Jennings looks at how potentially lucrative the NZ Women’s Golf Open could be for the country – especially with the help of Lydia Ko.

When 100 kilometre-an-hour winds blasted through the Windross Farm golf course at Ardmore, South of Auckland last Sunday, knocking over sponsors’ signage and scattering spectators, the images that went around the world were not what tournament backers were hoping for. 

The television coverage of the MCKAYSON NZ Women’s Golf Open was going out to an audience of millions in our key tourism markets, particularly Asia, Australia and the United States. 

The tournament deserved better weather because, in many respects, it has the potential to be more successful and more cost-efficient at promoting Auckland and New Zealand than other major events – including the America’s Cup. 

The LPGA (the world-leading women’s professional golf organisation) has agreed to a three-year deal and says it would like to see Auckland become a permanent fixture on the international schedule. 

Canadian golfer Brooke Henderson handled the wind and rain best to take home the largest slice of the $1.3 million in prize money. The runners-up came from China and Korea. 

The 5000-6000 spectators who turned up to see them play each day over the four scheduled days included plenty of golfing enthusiasts from overseas, underlining the importance of golf tourism. 

Last year, visiting golfers brought in an estimated $329 million (up 23 percent on the previous year) as they played the best of New Zealand’s 400 golf courses, which also underlined the importance of our own golfing superstar and world number one, Lydia Ko. 

Ko gives New Zealand “golfing credibility”. Not since Bob Charles have we had a more influential golfer on the world stage.

While she finished back in 22nd place in the inaugural LPGA event at Windross, Ko played a key role in bringing the event to Auckland. 

Ko gives New Zealand “golfing credibility”. Not since Bob Charles have we had a more influential golfer on the world stage. 

“Without Lydia Ko this tournament wouldn’t have happened” said Scott Ensign the LPGA’s director of Business Development. 

“Lydia Ko is a great ambassador for New Zealand. She is a big, big drawcard. She was very instrumental in getting the other top women golfers to come down here.” 

Ensign’s comments were echoed by Graeme Childs, Chairman of The Clubhouse (NZ) – the company contracted to run the tournament. 

“Lydia really pushed the other top golfers to come, she was saying to them that they had to experience her beautiful home town because they’d really like it – and I think they have all enjoyed it.” 

Ensign and other LPGA officials were at Windross to see how Auckland handled the tournament and, no doubt, to help look after the tournament’s sponsor, Min Cheol Kim.

Kim is chairman of MCS holdings, a Korean sports clothing company which has sunk millions of dollars into the title sponsorship. 

MCS is using the Open to build its MCKAYSON brand in the global market. Lydia Ko wore the brand last week but the range is not yet sold in New Zealand; our small market is not top priority. 

MCKAYSON is after the golfers who are watching the television coverage in China, Korea, Japan and the US.

The golf tourist is one of the best types of tourists you can get. Research shows that they spend $320 dollars a night. That’s a lot more than say the tourist who comes to visit friends or family. 

The LPGA were instrumental in securing MCKAYSON the main sponsor but New Zealand taxpayers and ratepayers were crucial in getting the event off the ground. 

ATEED and NZTE are both kicking in a million dollars per annum for three years. 

For ATEED, Auckland’s economic growth agency, the investment is part of its GEM strategy (Golf, Equine and Marine). It expects the golf open to deliver up to 13,000 visitor nights and $1.3 million dollars of new money directly into the economy. 

The importance of the LPGA event has increased following the loss of the NRL Auckland Nines.

ATEED’s head of major events, Charmaine Ngarimu, describes the open as an “unprecedented opportunity” for Auckland. 

“There are different types of tourists, the golf tourist is one of the best types of tourists you can get. Research shows that they spend $320 dollars a night. That’s a lot more than say the tourist who comes to visit friends or family. 

“On top of that spend we get international television exposure, potentially 250 million homes, and many of those are in our target markets like China and the US.” 

The Open was the first big test of the brand new Windross Farm course. 

The course was built after Fletcher Residential did a $40 million land swap deal with the Manukau Golf club so it could develop a huge housing estate on the club’s old course at Takanini. 

Windross, designed in part by former top professional golfer Phil Tataurangi, opened a year ago. 

Spectators and players endured Auckland’s hostile spring weather. Photo: Photosport

Its close proximity to the Ardmore Airport proved handy. Land around the runway provided parking for thousands of cars and spectators were shuttled across to the course by a fleet of vans driven by volunteers. On the weekend, plenty of spectators’ eyes wandered from the golf to the sky as WWII-era planes circled their Ardmore base. 

The one negative was Auckland’s spring weather. The event’s managers are likely to push for it to be held in early February, off the back of the Australian Open. 

The LPGA’s Scott Ensign is receptive to a move. 

“I think early February would be perfect. The weather would be better, the course would be in better condition and the field would be better too. It would be easy for all the top golfers to come over after the Australian Open.” 

Flying the golfers in from Australia as opposed to the US would also significantly lower the travel costs, but ATEED is not so sure about a change. 

“One of the reasons we put the money in is because it happens in the shoulder season. Accommodation in the summer is chockers and is likely to stay that way despite the new hotels being built. We don’t want to end up just displacing tourists. It is important that we bring new money into the city and I don’t think we would be keen to put the same level of money in if it is moved,” said Ngarimu. 

She also pointed out something all Aucklanders know. 

“There is no guarantee that we won’t get bad weather in the summer, it can happen. Last summer it rained during the Lantern Festival and the numbers (attending) dropped 20,000. It also rained during Pasifika. You just don’t know.”

Mark Jennings is co-editor of Newsroom.

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