Loaded guns ready to fire
A home-course men’s open champion would be fitting in the 125th anniversary year of Poverty Bay Golf Club.
But there is plenty of talent planning to gatecrash that party at the 83rd edition of the Emerre and Hathaway Poverty Bay men’s open, which tees off tomorrow.
Eighty players face a test of attrition and endurance over 36 holes of strokeplay qualifying, followed by matchplay in five groups of 16.
Heading the field is defending champion Andrew Higham, who goes into the three days on the back of winning two senior men’s club champion crowns — at Poverty Bay and Te Puia Springs.
His matchplay can be a tour de force. He is a fearless putter who invariably produces plenty of birdies — in his most recent 18 holes, he produced five birdies and one eagle in a 6-under 66 at the Park.
Higham, who also won the PB Open in 2014, leads a powerhouse home-course contingent. A few are bidding for their first taste of Open glory. Others are looking to add to previous successes.
Peter Kerekere won back-to-back Open crowns in 2015 and 2016, the first player to do so since former New Zealand international cricketer Alex Tait (2002, 2003).
Becoming only the sixth player to win three or more Open titles would be a treasured belated birthday present for Kerekere, who turned 30 on September 15.
Poverty Bay greenkeeper William Brown will be the busiest player in the field and, if he can overcome the demands of combining work and play, stands a good chance of adding to his 2012 victory.
Of those PB members who have not won the Open, one man stands out. Anaru Reedy, a multiple East Coast Open champion, top-qualified last year but fell short. He would dearly love to go all the way and underline the value he is expected to provide after deciding to make the step up from masters to senior level for Poverty Bay-East Coast at the national interprovincial in November.
Reedy’s fellow PBEC master of recent years, Pete Anderson, should be in the mix along with another master, Stefan Andreassen, who delivered a fine performance last year to make the final of the championship 16.
Other local players looking to make their mark include 2007 Open winner Tony Akroyd, although he has only recently returned to golf following a nasty finger injury. He reckons that if his week ended with a second Open title, it would be akin to the extraordinary comeback of Tiger Woods.
Another Patutahian, Hukanui Brown, is looking to build on his excellent East Coast Open — when he was runner-up to Higham — and enhance his chances of making the PBEC team for the nationals.
Former Fijian international Anuresh Chandra, who recently shifted to Gisborne, will compete in his first Open just four days after claiming the senior men’s club championship at Gisborne Park.
A couple of players now living out of town but still viewed as “locals” are returning.
Napier-based Waka Donnelly will continue his mission to equal, and perhaps one day surpass, the Open’s most prolific champion — eight-time winner the late Frank Gordon.
Donnelly won the first of his seven titles in 1989 and his last success was eight years ago.
David “Solly” Solomann, a member of Manukau course Wattle Downs and Waikohu, is out to roll back the years to his stunning Open victory in 1995 and cement a place in the PBEC masters squad for the interprovincial in Taupo next month.
Kawerau members Ruel Pedersen and Zane Rangihika add firepower to the field.
Pedersen was runner-up to Brown in the 2012 Open. Rangihika, also a member of Waikohu, is pushing for a place in the PBEC team for the national interprovincial, and a strong performance this week would give selectors food for thought.
Taupo’s Bruce Wilson flew under the radar when he won the Open in 2013 at the age of 58. He’s giving it another shot but would probably argue that age is a barrier and that the champion should emerge from the younger, much-longer-hitting talent around him.
The glamour groups tee off tomorrow at 8.04am and 8.12 on a course that club manager and professional Dave Keown described as being in “fantastic” order — the best he’d ever seen it.