THE tension and nerves were palpable as some of Southland and Otago’s top golfers teed off for the chance to win a coveted spot playing “inside the ropes” at next month’s ISPS Handa New Zealand Open.
The 22 golfers from 12 clubs played in the Millbrook Challenge last week after qualifying through club competitions for the chance to contend for the amateur spot, worth $10,000.
Organisers this year increased the number of clubs eligible to vie for the spot and enabled them to put forward two players, one male and one female. Previously only one player from each club could qualify.
Players came from Kelvin Heights, Arrowtown, Invercargill, Greenacres, Queens Park, Cromwell, Wanaka, Alexandra, Dunstan, Lake Hawea, Winton and Gore golf clubs, some teeing off at the championship course for the first time.
Among those was eventual winner Geordie Gibson (40), from the Greenacres club, near Invercargill.
Playing off a 15.1 handicap index, he was the clear winner after three holes but said he “couldn’t have been more surprised”.
“I’ve never played here before, so I was just looking forward to the experience and trying to keep my nerves under control by drinking lots of water,” he said.
The Australian-born quantity surveyor said he played golf when he was younger and then took it up again when he moved to Invercargill and set up his business. He usually played once a week, at the weekend.
“It was a really good decision to give myself the day off today,” he said.
“It’s still too much to take in right now. I’ll have to let it sink in and think about getting in a bit of intense practice on different courses.”
He said the “dream shot” that probably landed him the win was his second shot on to the eighth green. It landed 1.2m from the pin.
“I’m super excited to be playing in the Open,” he said.
And as for which of his golfing heroes he’s like to be playing alongside?
“Any of them. I can’t wait.”
The 99th ISPS Handa New Zealand Open will be played at Millbrook Resort and The Hills golf courses from March 1-4.