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Ko thrilled at LPGA Tour's move into NZ

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 16/11/2016

Lydia Ko, eagles on the 15th hole during the first round of the women's golf event. © Alastair Grant/AP Images Lydia Ko, eagles on the 15th hole during the first round of the women's golf event. Lydia Ko believes a host of the world's leading players will make the trip to New Zealand to contest the newest event on the LPGA Tour.

World No.1 Ko was as thrilled as anyone when the LPGA confirmed a tournament for Auckland next year, with the intention it becomes an annual fixture.

The newly-built Windross Farm Golf Course near Manurewa is the venue for the tournament starting on September 28, which will be the first PGA or LPGA event staged in New Zealand.

Ko, who was the first player to confirm her involvement at the $US1.3 million ($NZ 1.8 million) tournament, expects most of her peers will be keen to experience something new.

"When I heard this tour was going to be official, I was excited," she said.

"I think a lot of these girls will come and visit and experience New Zealand and the culture."

"I'm very biased but I think New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world."

New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy says the announcement finalises 18 months of negotiations which gathered momentum when a Korean sportswear company offered significant sponsorship support.

Murphy says 19-year-old Ko's global appeal was key driver for sponsors and the LPGA.

"It has been inspired by what is a once-in-a-generation superstar," he said.

Murphy says eight hours of broadcasting footage will reach more than 150 countries, which attracted Auckland local government support.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan says the tournament won't replace another event. It has been squeezed into the schedule just before the start of a string of tournaments in Asia.

"We're excited to extend our global reach and enable our Tour players and global television viewers to experience the beauty of New Zealand," Whan said.

"Lydia's a great example of the game being border-less."

Whan says Ko has already inspired a worldwide youth movement in women's golf and expects New Zealand golf will benefit hugely.

He is already anticipating large galleries.

"To see the crowds that have come out in Australia to see Lydia, I'm a little concerned about the security policy when Lydia tees off in New Zealand."

The eight previous editions of the tournament have been hosted by Christchurch at an earlier date in the calendar.

It has been co-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour but aside from three-time winner Ko, has struggled to attract world class golfers.

Ko says the tournament will be the biggest step golf could have made to lift its profile to Kiwis.

"Rugby and cricket are probably the biggest sports in New Zealand, but we've kind of grown golf in New Zealand," she said.

"More girls and more kids will say 'hey, I want to play on this tour and play this event too'."

The Windross Farm has undergone a revamp on 60 hectares of land owned by businessman Graham Windross.

Former PGA Tour golfer Phil Tataurangi was among those to have a hand in its design.

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