Australian golfers fought through unaccustomed stormy conditions to the top of the leaderboard after the first day of the Anita Boon Pro-Am at North Shore Golf Club today.
The tournament, with the support of major sponsors KFC and Coca-Cola, offers an excellent NZ$40,000 prize purse that has attracted 27 professionals for the 36 hole event co-sanctioned by the New Zealand Professional Women Golfers (NZPWG) and the Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG).
Former European Tour professional Cherie Alison leads on a one-over par 73 with three bogeys and two birdies which was an excellent return given the turbulent conditions with rain and hail mixed with strong winds and sunshine.
“It reminded me of being back in Europe. It was pretty tough although I was glad the rain did not come back and we missed the worst of it,” Alison said.
The Golf Operations Manager at Port Kembla Golf Club near Wollongong has not played fulltime on tour for six years and the Anita Boon Pro-Am is her first professional event since February.
“I’ve had no time to play much this year so I am pretty happy with today. I hit 15 greens in regulation which is great in those conditions. I fought hard against the wind.”
Alison has a one shot lead over fellow Australians Ashlee Dewhurst and Danielle Montgomery, who were both among the pre-tournament favourites.
Tasmanian Dewhurst, who turned pro two years ago, is a former Australian Amateur champion and winner of the prestigious Riversdale Cup.
Dewhurst, who plies her trade fulltime on the burgeoning China Tour, mixed five bogeys with three birdies, coming to New Zealand off the back of some regular tournament play, even of the conditions were significantly different that she finds in Asia.
“It was rain at the start, got hot in the middle and at the end the wind picked up and it was cold,” Dewhurst said.
“I was happy overall but I started birdie-birdie and was one-under after nine holes so I was a little disappointed to slip a little coming home,” she said.
“Playing regularly does help and I head back to China after for a regular tour event at Mission Hills, which is exciting.
“If anyone can get on the China Tour now they are doing well because in a few years it is going to take off and I think it will be the next LPGA. They just love their golf and the courses are amazing.”
Montgomery, who competes on the Ladies European Tour, fired two bogeys, two birdies and a costly double bogey in her two-over par 74.
The leading New Zealanders are both North Harbour players, in Stacey Tate and Pam Greenhalgh.
Tate has just returned to live in New Zealand after the last year in Sydney where her husband was working.
“I’ve only been back a few weeks and not really had a lot of chance to play or practice. It was certainly pretty tough out there today so I am satisfied with that score.”
Greenhalgh is employed as a golf development officer for the North Harbour Association, with her card checked by her boss today, who was no doubt giving her some gentle ribbing that maybe she had spent too much sneaky time practicing of late.
Some of the big names struggled in the conditions including defending champion Karen Pearce who shot a 10-over 82 and 2012 winner Katelyn Must with an 80 – both from Australia.
“I don’t think my wet weather gear has been out of my bag for two years,” said Queensland-based Pearce. “That was pretty foreign conditions for me and not too pleasant.”
The forecast is for improving conditions for tomorrow’s final round.
It is the sixth year of the women’s only professional event in the name of former New Zealand player Anita Boon, a passionate proponent of women’s golf, who passed away from ovarian cancer. The tournament raises funds for NZ Gynaecological Cancer Foundation, which was Boon’s chosen charity.