‘I love this tournament’

Third East Coast Open crown to Te Puia’s Higham.

Third East Coast Open crown to Te Puia’s Higham.

Andrew Higham (pictured) and Hukanui Brown contested the championship 16 final of the East Coast Open at Te Puia Hot Springs Golf Club. Higham won on the 16th. Pictures by Gray Clapham
Hukanui Brown.
THE NOW FAMOUS CRAYFISH TREE: A collection of crayfish arranged on a piece of driftwood. Classic.

East Coast Open champion Andrew Higham is not one for victory speeches.

He clearly prefers to let the 14 clubs in his bag do his talking.

But on Sunday night, in front of a jovial, beer-oiled, 19th-hole crowd, fresh from overindulging in a feast befitting Zeus and the rest of the Mount Olympus gods, Higham succinctly summed up the two days that ended in him reclaiming the No.1 mantle.

“I love winning. I love this tournament,” he said after outgunning surprise finalist Hukanui Brown in the championship 16 final of the East Coast men’s open on Higham’s home Te Puia Hot Springs fairways.

It was a third open crown for the self-employed painter-decorator, who turned 31 the day after.

And it came against a mate who had been working for him.

Higham added 2017 to his 2011 and 2015 crowns with a 4 and 2 defeat of Patutahi member Brown on a heavy Springs course deluged by overnight rain and buffeted by wind.

Several of what would usually be deemed straightforward par-3s became long-iron to 3-wood challenges for the majority of the field.

Length, however, is rarely an issue for those in the big boys division.

The short game is where it’s at and Higham, who grew up honing his wedge play and putting on this course, is among the district’s finest.

His campaign got under way with a 3 and 2 win over Graeme McLellan, one of the enthusiastic Miramar contingent who have been attending this tournament for years and love coming back for more.

Higham then ended the hopes of Kawerau 21-year-old Zane Rangihika, a powerful striker of the ball who has indicated interest in playing for Poverty Bay-East Coast.

Higham’s 2 and 1 win booked a semifinal date with Poverty Bay’s Stefan Andreassen, who knocked out top seed, Waikohu’s William Brown, in round 2.

It was a chance for Andreassen to avenge his loss to Higham in the 2017 Poverty Bay Open final but was not to be, Higham winning 3 and 2.

Hukanui Brown beat Poverty Bay’s Peter Clayton in round 1, then putted another PB player, Pete Kerekere, off the course in round 2. He had eight putts in the first eight holes on the way to a convincing win.

His semifinal against reigning champion Anaru Reedy was arguably the match of the tournament.

Brown sank a 12-foot par putt on the 19th to stay alive, then played a delightful approach to about six-foot past the pin on the 20th (the par-4 second).

Reedy, hunting a fifth EC Open honour, drove right, then left his second just right of the green. He put his third to five-foot from the hole.

Most lined up on the clubhouse balcony expected Brown to make birdie and end it. He missed, giving Reedy a chance to stay in the match, but his attempt slid by the right edge of the cup.

For 27-year-old Brown, it was a breakthrough performance. He had never featured this far into any of the district’s major open tournaments, and although he was unable to complete what would have been a stunning championship victory, he proved he could lift his game to the next level.

Higham’s victory was made the more special by several of his whanau being there, including brother Aaron, all the way from Invercargill.

Aaron made it a family double by winning the fourth 16 with a birdie on the 19th in the final.

The Open is the first of what has become known as “the Triple Crown” of Poverty Bay-East Coast men’s tournaments — the others being the King of the Coast at Tolaga Bay and the Poverty Bay Open on Gisborne’s Poverty Bay course.

Andrew Higham is the reigning PB Open champion and if he was to win the KoTC, he would hold all three titles.

East Coast Open champion Andrew Higham is not one for victory speeches.

He clearly prefers to let the 14 clubs in his bag do his talking.

But on Sunday night, in front of a jovial, beer-oiled, 19th-hole crowd, fresh from overindulging in a feast befitting Zeus and the rest of the Mount Olympus gods, Higham succinctly summed up the two days that ended in him reclaiming the No.1 mantle.

“I love winning. I love this tournament,” he said after outgunning surprise finalist Hukanui Brown in the championship 16 final of the East Coast men’s open on Higham’s home Te Puia Hot Springs fairways.

It was a third open crown for the self-employed painter-decorator, who turned 31 the day after.

And it came against a mate who had been working for him.

Higham added 2017 to his 2011 and 2015 crowns with a 4 and 2 defeat of Patutahi member Brown on a heavy Springs course deluged by overnight rain and buffeted by wind.

Several of what would usually be deemed straightforward par-3s became long-iron to 3-wood challenges for the majority of the field.

Length, however, is rarely an issue for those in the big boys division.

The short game is where it’s at and Higham, who grew up honing his wedge play and putting on this course, is among the district’s finest.

His campaign got under way with a 3 and 2 win over Graeme McLellan, one of the enthusiastic Miramar contingent who have been attending this tournament for years and love coming back for more.

Higham then ended the hopes of Kawerau 21-year-old Zane Rangihika, a powerful striker of the ball who has indicated interest in playing for Poverty Bay-East Coast.

Higham’s 2 and 1 win booked a semifinal date with Poverty Bay’s Stefan Andreassen, who knocked out top seed, Waikohu’s William Brown, in round 2.

It was a chance for Andreassen to avenge his loss to Higham in the 2017 Poverty Bay Open final but was not to be, Higham winning 3 and 2.

Hukanui Brown beat Poverty Bay’s Peter Clayton in round 1, then putted another PB player, Pete Kerekere, off the course in round 2. He had eight putts in the first eight holes on the way to a convincing win.

His semifinal against reigning champion Anaru Reedy was arguably the match of the tournament.

Brown sank a 12-foot par putt on the 19th to stay alive, then played a delightful approach to about six-foot past the pin on the 20th (the par-4 second).

Reedy, hunting a fifth EC Open honour, drove right, then left his second just right of the green. He put his third to five-foot from the hole.

Most lined up on the clubhouse balcony expected Brown to make birdie and end it. He missed, giving Reedy a chance to stay in the match, but his attempt slid by the right edge of the cup.

For 27-year-old Brown, it was a breakthrough performance. He had never featured this far into any of the district’s major open tournaments, and although he was unable to complete what would have been a stunning championship victory, he proved he could lift his game to the next level.

Higham’s victory was made the more special by several of his whanau being there, including brother Aaron, all the way from Invercargill.

Aaron made it a family double by winning the fourth 16 with a birdie on the 19th in the final.

The Open is the first of what has become known as “the Triple Crown” of Poverty Bay-East Coast men’s tournaments — the others being the King of the Coast at Tolaga Bay and the Poverty Bay Open on Gisborne’s Poverty Bay course.

Andrew Higham is the reigning PB Open champion and if he was to win the KoTC, he would hold all three titles.

Tradition is not lost on those who are part of tournaments like the East Coast Open.

The clothes, the equipment, the cars that get you there may differ significantly from decades ago, but the essence of this tournament remains the same.

On Saturday night, before players tucked into a spread that it would not be an exaggeration to describe as magnificent, kaumatua and Te Puia Hot Springs club member Nehe Dewes spoke of what makes the Open special, in particular its “wairua” or spirit.

He sensed a strong wairua pervading the room, extending its reach from the players exchanging 19th-hole stories to those behind the scenes diligently preparing kai, working on the results board and other duties that collectively produce such a successful event.

The Open is a tribute to the band of Springs members and volunteers, who pool their resources, time and love of their club and the game to create what for many is a unique and unforgettable experience at an entry cost of just $70. Is there another golf tournament in the world that features a “crayfish tree” at dinner? Not to mention the sumptous array of other delicacies . . . two nights running.

Then there is the course. The Springs is a 16-hole volunteer-maintained track comprising a clever range of creative and demanding holes, enhanced at the weekend by the inclement weather that raised the White flag of surrender from some.

This blend of competition and socialising is what the Open is all about, and no one appreciates it more than the visitors who keep coming back.

Among them are a crew from Miramar, wearing their special Open “tour” shirts.

One of the contingent paid the ultimate tribute to the club at prize-giving when he described the Open as “the best tournament I have ever played in”.

Plenty of others would agree.

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