AS POPULAR AS EVER
COVID-19 denied Te Puia Springs’ second-greatest player the chance of a hat-trick of East Coast Open titles in 2020.
Not this year.
Andrew Higham tees off tomorrow morning on his home Springs track as the reigning champion two years after he secured his fourth crown.
The coronavirus pandemic put paid to one of the district’s most popular and prestigious men’s golf tournaments last year — a huge blow to arguably the greatest 16-hole course in the world.
That didn’t diminish its popularity in any way.
Once again a full field of around 80 players will contest the Open. They range in handicap from Les Gunther (28.7 WHS handicap index) to four-time East Coast Open champion Anaru Reedy (+2.9), who is the No.1 seed for this year.
And they are coming from near and far — Canterbury, Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Auckland, along with most of Poverty Bay-East Coast’s clubs.
A good number of top local players got a valuable warm-up to the Open at the first round of the Oligoi Jug senior men’s interclub pennants held at the Springs last weekend.
The unanimous decision was that the course was in great nick and, while there was a bit of creeping weed in the greens, the players were looking forward to returning.
Higham was absent from the Oligoi opener but won’t have lost any advantage from that.
The Springs is where the Higham success story began, following in the fairway footsteps of Coast legend Peter Rouse, and Higham could probably walk it backwards blindfolded.
Higham’s name in gold is a regular feature on the Springs honours board. Those honours include four East Coast Open titles — 2003, 2011, 2018 and 2019, when he beat Opotiki’s Micky Huriwaka 4 and 3 in the matchplay final.
A handful of players loom as his major threats.
Awapuni Links greenkeepr William Brown — the champion in 2010 — impressed in Te Puia Springs colours for the first time at the pennants last weekend. He was in red figures when he won his singles match, which featured two eagles.
Reedy had two comfortable Oligoi wins and with four East Coast Open crowns spanning 14 years and 15 tournaments (2003-2017) to his name, a fifth would be no surprise.
Poverty Bay’s Peter Kerekere has extra incentive for Open glory. With Poverty Bay Open and King of the Coast crowns to his name, Kerekere needs the East Coast Open to complete the “Triple Crown” of Poverty Bay-East Coast golf.
If you were to ask any of the local contenders who they would prefer not to face, Simon Jeune would be a common reply.
Jeune won the title in 2016 and was runner-up to Higham in 2015. His technician-like approach and unflappable demeanour produce a tough adversary on most occasions — as his foursomes and singles victims from the Oligoi last weekend will attest.
A couple of dark horses could emerge. Glenn Morley’s game and golfing nous have advanced signficantly over the past year, while the likes of Tom Donovan, Pete Anderson, Dwayne Russell, Jason Devery and Mark Jefferson cannot be discounted.
Te Puia, the course, is a leveller. Add matchplay to that and it really is a case of “on the day”.
By late Sunday afternoon we’ll know whose year it is.