New Zealand-born and raised but now Australian-based golf journalist, Bruce Young, has been a key member of Sky Sports coverage of the New Zealand Open in recent years but his involvement in the event has seen him attend, in various capacities, 30 of the last 50 staging’s of Golf New Zealand’s flagship event.
Bruce caddied on the Australasian, European, USPGA, US Senior (now PGA Tour Champions), and Japan Tours before eventually turning to golf journalism 25 years ago and that background has served him well in his various roles as a golf journalist.
The New Zealand Open spoke to Bruce about some of his memories in his involvement in our particular event which has included 12 championships as a caddy, 16 in a commentary role, and 2 as a stand-alone golf journalist.
Bruce, you have a long history at the New Zealand Open what are your first memories?
The first New Zealand Open I attended was in 1971 at Balmacewan (The Otago Golf Club) as a teenager. I was caddying for John Lister but it was Peter Thomson who made an impression that year as it was his 9th and final victory in the New Zealand Open (the most won by any player).
Thomson was of course such a prolific winner of titles worldwide including his domination of The Open Championship over a 13-year period between 1952 and 1965 where not only did he win on five occasions but he was also runner-up on three other occasions.
He and Kel Nagle (who claimed seven New Zealand Open titles) played a key role in the standing of the New Zealand Open back then and the support by both of the New Zealand golf circuit during the 50s, 60s, and 70s played an important role in the profile the game had in New Zealand in an era where there was little televised coverage of such.
I was recently awarded the Peter Thomson Quill for my body of work in golf journalism over a 25-year period and in my acceptance speech I paid credit to Thomson for the indelible mark he left on me back in 1971 and since.
You caddied in a lot of New Zealand Opens how close did you get to caddying for the winner of the event?
I caddied in a total of 12 New Zealand Opens, 11 for John Lister who was a prolific winner of events in New Zealand during the 1970’s but the New Zealand Open eluded him (and me for that matter). John never seemed comfortable with the New Zealand Open setup and on one occasion walked off in the early stages of the 1977 version at Royal Auckland.
John decided, as a result of his angst about the New Zealand Open course setups and a decision made at St Clair during one of the earlier Otago Charity Classics to withdraw a hole from competition during play, not to play the 1979 New Zealand Open at St Clair and I managed to snare the bag of Simon Owen. Owen led into the final round that year but a costly double bogey at the 6th hole would see him eventually finish runner-up behind Stewart Ginn and that was as close as I came to caddying for a winner of the event.
Steve Williams has caddied for the winners of some 150 titles over his amazing 47-year career but the New Zealand Open has proven elusive and while the number of winners I have caddied for is significantly less (17) I too feel frustrated that even as a caddy it would have been nice to have been
on the bag of a New Zealand Open winner.
Your role as part of the commentary team for the event involved 16 New Zealand Opens. Can you tell us about some of the highlights and special memories.
Well, the first time I commentated in the event was at The Grange in 1995 when Peter O’Malley won by three shots over Scott Hoch and such was the lead O’Malley had playing the last we conducted a one-on-one chat for TV3 with him down the 18th fairway. Today that is relatively normal, but at that time it was unique television.
There have been many other special occasions. In Michael Campbell’s playoff win in 2000, I was part of a commentary team that included Brendan
Telfer, John Lister, and Ossie Moore. For Campbell to have won his one and only New Zealand Open in a playoff against yet another fine name in New Zealand Golf, Craig Perks, was rather special given it was essentially a home game for Michael.
Mathew Lane’s win over Rod Pampling in 1998 at the Formosa Golf Club where I was working in an on-course role, was certainly one of the more emotional wins. Lane breaking down and was almost unable to speak during his acceptance speech due to the significance of the win and just what it
meant to him.
In 2004 Sir Bob Charles was supposed to be playing his last New Zealand Open (we soon learned that was not the case) but he had invited David Stockton and Jay Siegel (fellow US Senior Tour players at the time) to the event and they were paired with him over the first 36 holes.
When it appeared as if Sir Bob would not make the cut I suggested to the producer we try and get a chat with him as we walked up the final fairway of his 36th hole on the Friday evening as it was clear he would not be around for the weekend and as the 6.00 pm News was approaching quickly, we
might miss the chance to talk with him after his round. That walk between his second shot and the green is one that I will treasure forever, firstly because I pushed for it to happen and due to the potential significance of Sir Bob playing his last New Zealand Open.
As it turned out it wasn’t and Sir Bob would create perhaps one of the great moments of the New Zealand Open three years later when as a key advocate of bringing the event to Queenstown he was asked to play the inaugural staging of the event at The Hills. During that week he became, (and still is) the oldest player to make a cut in an event on a recognised tour (it was part of the European Tour also that week). Charles broke his age (71) on two occasions during the event.
I was commentating for the European Tour’s world feed that year along with Englishman Julian Tutt and having my good friend Michael Glading on the bag of Charles that week made it an even more special occasion to be involved in describing.
The iconic Renton Laidlaw and I called the 2006 New Zealand Open at Gulf Harbour (again for the European Tour’s world feed) and the winner Nathan Green, who I had a work association with, produced a stunning final round of 67 in the most demanding conditions about three hours ahead of
the final group. I asked Nathan if he would consider coming into the commentary box to talk about his round and his chances of taking the title despite there still being so much golf to play out in the latter groups. As it turned out the blustery conditions took their toll and Green was the champion and to have had the winner in the commentary box with Renton and I for so long as he watched his chances of victory improve was rather unique.
Every year at both The Hills and Millbrook Resort have provided special memories as it is one of the most enjoyable events to be involved in any capacity, but the win of Mike Hendry in 2017 holds particular memories in my commentary role, as it was the first by a New Zealander since Mahal Pearce’s win in 2003.
And then in 2023 Brendan Jones, who I had played a role in convincing to come to the inaugural staging of the event in its current format in 2013, provided a source of satisfaction for both Brendan and myself as despite his love of the event and the Queenstown region he had been unable to
perform to his capabilities until his final round brilliance which saw him win by three strokes. Everyone who wins the New Zealand Open is obviously delighted to do so, but for a range of reasons it was clear that Brendan, a prolific winner in Japan, saw this as one of his most satisfying career wins.
With this year marking the 103rd edition of the New Zealand Open, what are your plans for the tournament?
This year I will again be part of the commentary team along with Phil Tataurangi, Greg Turner and Laura McGoldrick and if 2024 brings as much enjoyment as the previous years in the Wakatipu Basin then I will leave a very happy man.