Professional golf returns to the Western Bay in style with two outstanding fields teeing up at Mount Maunganui and Fairview golf clubs from Friday through Sunday.
The Coombes Johnston BMW Pro-Am starts at 11.30am on Friday at the Mount Maunganui course, with the Men's Health Trust New Zealand and Generation Homes Fairview Pro-Am, incorporating a 36-hole professional tournament, taking place at the Fairview Golf Club, near Katikati, on Saturday and Sunday.
The tournaments have attracted the cream of New Zealand's resident professional golfers and are the last two events on the NZPGA's Order of Merit, with $15,000 prize-money up for grabs at Mount Maunganui and $20,000 at Fairview.
Troy Ropiha looks set to take the $5000 bonus prize for topping the table, with second-placed Ryan Fox not playing, and David Klein back in third place only an outside chance of catching Ropiha. Tauranga pro Jarred Pender is in fifth place.
As an added incentive to hit the perfect short iron at Fairview's par 3, 9th hole, a 2013 Isuzu D-Max LS 2WD manual double cab ute is the prize for any amateur or professional who scores a hole-in-one.
The tournaments are a special welcome home for US-based touring pros Josh Geary and Brad Iles.
The two former Bay of Plenty representative amateurs share a house in Charleston, South Carolina, and although they have struggled at times, they have not given up on their dreams of making it on to the USPGA Tour and all the potential wealth and glory associated with it.
A full field of 52 pros and 36 amateur teams and sponsors will be in action on Friday at the Mount Maunganui course well used to hosting top class golf tournaments.
The NZPGA was played there in the 1970s and 1980s and in more recent times the 2000 New Zealand Amateur, 2002 Asia Pacific Championship, 2003 New Zealand Women's Amateur and the 2012 New Zealand Men's and Women's Amateurs were all held at the immaculately groomed links course, with a well-deserved reputation for outstanding greens.
Resident professional Robert Rookes says it is so important to get more of these tournaments up and running, as there are so few opportunities for New Zealand-based tour pros to play.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for young players who can't get to play in Asia and Australia, and it is also important for clubs to have a look at these players," said Rookes.
"The Charles Tour does a great job promoting young pros and our pro-am will raise the profile of our club and the game, and get professional golf back in the Bay."
Rookes is pleased to have Geary back playing at the course where he learned a great deal of his skills in his formative years.
"Josh started with me in the junior squad in the late 90s and early 2000s. He was a young fellah with all the right attributes to succeed and has never been scared to score low.
"I thought he would do really well in the US and he may still do so. It will be great to have him back playing here."
Fairview Golf Club's head professional Nick Wilson will host a clinic for the pros on Saturday morning and he is excited about the opportunity to showcase the course.
"Fairview has come a long way since the course was established in 1998 and it is in the best condition I have seen it," said Wilson.
"The fairways and greens have really matured and we now have world-class facilities here with the best driving range in the Bay, a country club, private members lounge and top quality gym overlooking the course."
The Men's Health Trust New Zealand has made it possible for the historic tournament to have New Zealander Craig Perks attending as tournament ambassador.
Perks is famous for beating Tiger Woods to win the 2002 Players Championship, one of the most prestigious tournaments on the PGA Tour and widely considered to be the 5th major, and he was named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year.
NZPGA national events manager Jim Clelland says the new addition to the professional players' calendar is most welcome.
"In my opinion it is good for the young pros to play for prize money but beyond that it gives the amateur members of clubs a chance to play with the pros.
"Another bonus is that if the clubs do it right ... then it gives them a chance to make a profit. Any event that runs at a profit and gives clubs a chance for extra income is extremely important at the moment."