Amateur and open championships
Several of the biggest competitions in New Zealand golf have been held annually (apart from breaks during world wars) for over a century.
In 2012, for the first time in the 119-year history of the New Zealand Amateur Championship, two sisters contested the final. Munchin Keh, 19, and her sister Wenyung, 15, of Titirangi, were almost level-pegging throughout the 36-hole contest at the Mount Maunganui Golf Club. At the final hole, from 150 metres and in the rough, Munchin hit to within a metre of the hole. Wenyung then sank a 7-metre putt to stay in contention, before Munchin sank her own putt to win.
Both the men’s and women’s amateur championships were first held in 1893 as competitions between the country’s four golf clubs. The men’s event was won by J. A. Somerville, playing on his home course of Otago, and the women’s by Lomax Smith of Christchurch.
The Open Championship (for both professionals and amateurs) began in 1907 when A. D. S. Duncan, an amateur, won at Napier. In 2012 the New Zealand Open for men and women and the Amateur Championships remained the country’s largest individual golfing events.
Prize money increases
Until the 1940s the prize for the country’s most prestigious golf event, the New Zealand Open, was just £40. In 1946 an Auckland sporting-goods store promoted a Victory Tournament with a first prize of £200. This was the first important sponsored local tournament, and once further sponsorship increased the prize to £1,000, it attracted the reigning British Open Champion. From 1975 to 1994 a second major professional golf tournament, the Air New Zealand Shell Open, was played alongside the New Zealand Open.
In addition to these individual competitions, doubles and foursomes events for teams of two and four players, in amateur, professional and open categories, have taken place since the 1920s. Other longstanding team events include the inter-provincial championships for the Russell Grace Cup (for women, contested since 1949) and the Freyberg Rosebowl (for male amateurs, since 1952).
First international competition
New Zealand golf was largely isolated from the rest of the world until 1927, when New Zealand won the first men’s trans-Tasman competition, played in Sydney. New Zealand also won the equivalent women’s event in 1933 when the Tasman Cup was played for the first tiem. In 1935 a New Zealand four led by A. D. S. Duncan played in the UK for the first time.
Major international successes have included:
- Bob Charles winning the British Open championship at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s course in Lancashire (1963)
- Marnie McGuire winning the British Amateur Championship (1986)
- Craig Perks winning the Players Championship in Florida (2002)
- Michael Campbell winning the US Open Championship at Pinehurst, North Carolina (2005)
- 18-year-old Danny Lee becoming the then youngest-ever winner of the US Amateur Championship (2008)
- Lydia Ko winning the New South Wales Open at the age of 14, becoming the then youngest-ever winner of a top-tier professional or amateur tournament (2012)
- Lydia Ko, aged 17, becoming the youngest-ever number-one-ranked professional golfer (2015)
- Lydia Ko, aged 19, winning a silver medal in golf at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, becoming New Zealand’s youngest-ever individual female Olympic medallist (2016)
- Steven Alker was the top-ranked player on the PGA Champions Tour for over-50-year-olds (2022).
Hosting international events
In 1998 New Zealand hosted the World Cup of Golf at the Gulf Harbour course, Whangaparāoa, north of Auckland, when it was won by England’s Nick Faldo and David Carter.
In 2012 New Zealand hosted two international golf tournaments each year. One was the NZPGA (Professional Golf Association) Championship (from 1920 to 1963 known simply as the Professional Championship, and later by other titles). Since 2002 this event has been played at the Clearwater Resort in Christchurch in January. The New Zealand Open, also known as the NZPGA Pro-Am Championship, was held from 2007 to 2010 at the purpose-designed Hills golf course near Queenstown.