When we look back 20 years from now, 2017 will prove to be one of the most definitive years for golf in New Zealand.
We started the year with the first Kiwi victory in the New Zealand Open since 2003. Mike Hendry’s win at Millbrook Resort on the first playoff hole was the first push of a snowball that is quickly gaining in size.
Since then, strong numbers from this past summer’s in-bound golf tourism have once again confirmed that New Zealand is a desirable destination for golfers from around the world, specifically China, Australia and the United States.
In late September we will welcome the LPGA Tour to our shores, marking the first time a major international tour visits New Zealand. If that wasn’t enough, we finish 2017 with the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship hosted by Royal Wellington Golf Club in late October.
While these two events create a huge opportunity for New Zealand Inc, it’s the multi-year commitment from the LPGA Tour that is especially appealing.
Once considered a remote corner of the world, New Zealand is now among the hottest travel destinations on the planet with significant growth in visitor numbers and visitor spend over the past several years.
Advancements in air travel, the prevalence of social media to promote the destination and New Zealand’s reputation as a safe, beautiful country have all contributed to tourism becoming the top earner for our economy.
As a result of this success, and with the phenomenal achievements of Lydia Ko, we’ve captured the travel industry’s attention and also the world’s most successful women’s sporting association.
In the autumn of 2015, I was enjoying some down time on Waiheke Island with Michael Goldstein. The tournament director for the MCKAYSON New Zealand Women’s Open casually mentioned that he was going to bring an LPGA Tour event to New Zealand.
Given my role in executing the government’s golf tourism strategy, I was obviously intrigued. Although I didn’t vocalise it, I felt he might be setting his sights on something a bit out of his reach. What he was proposing required the LPGA Tour to agree to a New Zealand stop on its growing international calendar, a venue to be secured, and a title sponsor willing to contribute significant funds to the tournament.
Clearly, Michael proved me wrong . . . flying to Florida to meet with LPGA Tour officials, then securing a date (September 28-October 10), a venue (Windross Farm), a title sponsor (MCKAYSON) and most importantly the support of New Zealand superstar Lydia Ko.
The end result will see Ko hosting a tournament at New Zealand’s newest marquee course, Auckland’s Windross Farm. The domestic market will now have a chance to see Ko play in her hometown, something that has never happened in her professional career. Even more appealing to our golf and tourism industry is the chance for the rest of the world to cast their eyes on professional golf in New Zealand.
We have known our golf product is world class and that our tourism offerings easily compete with other destinations. And so it was just a matter of time until we could tell the story to the right audience. That time has now come with an international broadcast that will introduce not only Windross Farm, but also the other golf and tourism assets around the country. Images of New Zealand’s best courses will be fed directly into the homes, onto the mobile devices and into the minds of golfers around the world.
Seeing New Zealand through the eyes of a major professional tour will legitimise our destination in ways that can’t easily be quantified. For years national and regional tourism bodies (plus every Kiwi who has ever travelled abroad) have been telling the world how appealing we are. While this strategy clearly worked, it does appear to be self-serving at times. The LPGA Tour’s addition of a New Zealand stop uses their trusted brand to tell a worldwide golfing audience that we are worth visiting.
And while the PGA and LPGA Tours have just began expanding their event reach outside of the US in recent years, there is already a strong indication that golfers are willing to travel to event destinations. Early indications show a strong interest in the MCKAYSON event from New Zealand’s domestic market. Clubs from Kaitaia to Invercargill are organising member groups to view the event and spend time enjoying the surrounding area. This also holds true for our closest neighbour, Australia, where several golf tour operators and golf clubs have discussed making a journey to New Zealand centred on the Open.
The economic and reputational benefits of the event are significant for many, including New Zealand Golf, whose Women’s Open is now an LPGA Tour event. The new course at Windross Farm has been gifted one of the best marketing strategies imaginable with a professional tour coming to their doorstep inside its first full year of operation. And the city of Auckland, known for hosting world cups in rugby, cricket and sailing now gets to add itself to a growing list of bona fide golf destinations.
Additionally, all the other golf courses, hotels, restaurants and service providers in Auckland and surrounding areas should see a surge in shoulder-season business when the LPGA Tour brings spectators to town.
For those within an easy drive of Auckland – likely to be Northland, Taupo and even Hawke’s Bay – the opportunities to capture a golf audience on an otherwise sleepy period at the end of September is something to be thankful.