Many events never see out a decade, but on September 9th Wanganui Golf Club will run its centenary Wanganui Open.
With the district’s top two players absent due to international commitments, favouritism for the event falls to the past three champions, Junior Tatana (Foxton), Trent Munn (Manawatu) and Ewan Westergaard (Manawatu) as well as Marton Golf Club’s Lachie McDonald who is fresh off a second placing at the Challenge Cup and a 6th placing at the Waikato Winter Strokeplay.
The event is the second to last Manawatu Wanganui Golf Order of Merit event from which all male and female representative sides are named. With recent victories at the SBS Invitational and the annual Wellington Match the pursuit for team spots has never been tighter and the scores here will reflect greatly as selectors will be naming 10 senior men, 4 junior men and 8 women to compete at Belmont four weeks later against Wellington, Taranaki and Hawkes Bay.
Of keen interest will be the chase for Freyberg Masters positions. With three automatic selections on the line following the Manawatu Open (October 14th), the pressure is on to perform. Chris Treen (Waimarino) currently heads the rankings on 137.5 points, closely followed by Stu Smith 130 (Manawatu) and Tony Chettleburgh 130 (Palmerston North). With Chettleburgh absent from the tournament, the door is wide open for the trailing bunch to leapfrog him into the all-important top three. Sitting fourth on 91.5 is Wanganui’s Rick Harding, but only one point back is Ian Rasmussen (Foxton) and Malcolm Wells (Feilding).
The Women's field sees recent OOM event winners Stephanie Hyatt and Emma Clayton once again battling it out. Hyatt (nee McKillop) charged home last year with a final round 72 to snatch the title from Levin's Brydie Hodge. Both Hodge and Clayton will make the long trip back on Saturday from the NZ Under 19's in Northland. Imogen Donnelly-Lawrence (Wellington) is the lowest handicap in the field.
In 2011 the club had to make arguably the events biggest ever operational decision, moving from 72 holes to the popular 36 hole format and forgoing further chances of attracting the nation’s leading players as they had done up until 2007.
Reputed as one of the best courses in the country, the top players in the country graced its fairways during 38 national championships staged at the “Belmont Links”. 1978 saw the last of the professional opens as golf’s popularity increased and the need to generate larger revenues meant organisers moved tournaments from smaller towns and top courses to bigger towns and the best courses they could provide. The amateur game always favoured the course though, largely due to trailblazers in the 40’s and 50’s such as Brian Silk and Arthur Kitto who ensured their peers and future generations would return to the course.
In 2006, the Eisenhower Trophy and Espirito Santo teams competed in the lead up to their respective world championships, and Eisenhower team member Josh Geary (now on the web.com tour) was the men’s victor. 2007 saw the North Island Amateur where local hope Nick Gillespie broke through for his first national title. Riding on a high, the club could not be blamed for not seeing what would happen next, a complete shift in the amateur golfing environment created by two major events, the amalgamation of Men’s and Women’s national golfing bodies to create NZ Golf, and the creation of a series of events called the GTNZ (Golf Tour of New Zealand). All of a sudden there was no room for tournaments like the Wanganui Open under these new structures, and try as they might, along with Manawatu Wanganui Golf’s assistance, the event struggled for the next few years until the decision to change the format was undertaken. A full field will compete for the 100thWanganui Open title this Sunday, September 9th."