Golf

LPGA hits Auckland for a double bogey

The world’s top women golfers won’t be coming to Auckland next year after the LPGA’s unexpected decision to drop the city from its 2018 tour schedule.

Auckland’s wild spring weather is likely to have been the major reason behind the pull-out after this year's inaugural event was disrupted by a severe storm.

A heavy downpour drenched the golfers on what was supposed to be the final round and American Danielle Kang took to Twitter claiming that the players were in serious danger.

It was an overdramatic tweet from world’s number 21; but the rain did force the MACKAYSON Women’s Golf Open into another day and the images of wind and rain sweeping the course did not enhance Auckland’s reputation.

However, the announcement by the LPGA that they would not be supporting the event next year came as a shock to the organisers and backers, which include ATEED and the Government.

Enthusiastic LPGA officials were eager to speak about the three-year deal they had done when they were here for the event in late September.

They were quick to point out that New Zealand had a true superstar in Lydia Ko and how she had been instrumental in getting the event to Auckland.

“Without Lydia Ko this tournament wouldn’t have happened.” Scott Ensign, the LPGA’s director of business development, told Newsroom.

With Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff tightening the financial screws on council spending, The Clubhouse and the LPGA will need to play some skilful shots if they want to get this tournament out of the rough and back onto the fairway in 2019. 

Ensign was also impressed with the new Windross course at Ardmore and the way the event was run by local sports events management company, The Clubhouse.

The deal involved ATEED and the Government each sinking a million dollars a year over three years.

ATEED’s head of major events Charmaine Ngarimu described 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 they spend $320 a night. That’s a lot more than the tourist who comes to visit friends or family.”

Between 5000-6000 mainly local spectators turned up to Windross on each of the four scheduled days but it is the television exposure that goes into international markets that ATEED and the Government want.

Last year, visiting golfers bought in $329 million but there is potential for a lot more.

For ATEED, Auckland’s economic growth agency, the golf open is an important part of its GEM strategy (Golf, Equine and Marine) and it was expecting the event to deliver 13,000 visitor nights and a $1.3 cash benefit to the local economy.

A post analysis of the event, including its economic benefits is due at the end of the month.

The Clubhouse said today that it is in negotiations with the LPGA to have the event rescheduled for February or April 2019.

The LPGA strongly favours February with Ensign telling Newsroom back in September: “February would be perfect. The weather would be better, the course would be better too and it would be easy for all the top golfers to come over after the Australian Open.”

Golf tourists spend about $320 a night - a loss for Auckland. Photo: Supplied

The last point is key. It is likely that the LPGA was not happy with the quality of this year’s field which contained only two real superstars – Ko and the eventual winner, Canadian golfer Brooke Henderson.

As one respected golfing commentator pointed out: “Incredibly there is not one player from South Korea (a powerhouse of women’s golf) teeing off that is ranked in the top 100.”

Staging the event off the back of the Australian Open would significantly increase the chances of a quality field. But moving the event is not going to find favour with ATEED or perhaps central government, whose financial backing is almost certainly needed if the event is to continue.

When the LPGA first raised the idea of a move to February, Ngarimu was cautious.

“One of the reasons we put money in was because it happens in the shoulder season. Accommodation in the summer is chockers and it is likely to stay that way ... it is important that we bring new money into the city.”

ATEED’s Visitor and External Relations manager Steve Armitage has reiterated the point, saying it will review its level of investment if the event is moved outside the shoulder season.

“The ATEED major events sponsorship investment is $1,000,000 per year for 2017-2019, with the first event taking place in the shoulder season of 2017. ATEED’s investment is conditional upon the event happening in the shoulder season of September-November. All costs are capped and present no underwrite risks for ATEED or Auckland Council."

Pursuing major events that attract visitors to Auckland outside of the peak tourism periods in the warmer months is part of ATEED’s focus on addressing seasonal peaks experienced by the region’s tourism - particularly accommodation - sectors.

Events in the spring and autumn shoulder season occur when there is plenty of accommodation capacity.”

With Auckland’s Mayor Phil Goff tightening the financial screws on council spending, The Clubhouse and the LPGA will need to play some skilful shots if they want to get this tournament out of the rough and back onto the fairway in 2019. 

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