This week’s Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open can lay claim to attracting the strongest field in the event’s brief three year history.

Former world number one Laura Davies, a winner of five tournaments on the Ladies European Tour last year to take her tally to 79 in an illustrious career, will defend her title at Pegasus Golf Club near Christchurch starting on Thursday.

While the LET’s top ranked player on the Henderson Money List last year, Lee-Anne Pace is a late withdrawal from the tournament after accepting an invitation to the rich LPGA event in Thailand, there are winners galore in the field.

Half of last year’s Ladies European Tour champions are competing at Pegasus, along with a strong contingent from across the Tasman, some world class young guns and some talented Americans in a field comprising players from 20 countries.

As well as Davies, the irrepressible 47 year old, other 2010 winners from the LET include third ranked Melissa Reid (England – Turkish Airlines Ladies Open), Anja Monke (Germany – Lalla Meryem Cup), Florentyna Parker (England – ABN AMRO Ladies Open), Karen Lunn (Australia – Portugal Open), Trish Johnson (England – Tenerife Ladies Open and Open de France), Virginie Lagoutte-Clement (France  – Aberdeen Scottish Open) and  Maria Hernandez (Spain – Slovak Open).

Added to that are players who won in 2009, including Marianne Skarpnord (Norway), Becky Brewerton (Wales), Diana Luna (Italy), Linda Wessberg (Sweden) and Felicity Johnson (England).

There is a bunch of young and extraordinarily talented young players led by Sweden’s Pernilla Lindberg, who will be remembered for her final round 63 last year that saw her jump to a share of second place at Pegasus.

Her former team-mate Caroline Hedwall, the current NCAA champion in the USA and former leading individual at the Espirito Santo world women’s championship, is teeing up, having won her professional debut at the New South Wales Open, edging out New Zealand’s Lydia Ko by a shot.

There are also huge raps on Spain’s Belen Mozo, who has recently made the jump to the paid ranks after a glittering amateur career in Europe and in the US collegiate scene. Backed by the great Greg Norman, the 22 year Mozo has recently qualified for both the LET and LPGA Tours.

The Australian charge will come from LPGA player Sarah Kemp, who has been runner-up for the last two years in New Zealand. She is joined by fellow LPGA players Lindsey Wright, who has been as high as No 12 in the world, and Sarah-Jane Smith plus the long hitting Kristie Smith.

Add to that are a number of experienced North Americans led by Canada’s Lorie Kane, who has won seven times on the LPGA where she has amassed more than NZ$7m in her career.

“There’s no question that this is a remarkable field this year,” said promoter Bob Tuohy. “We have attracted such a strong group of women from the Ladies European Tour this year – players who are in-form and winners. They love to travel and also recognise the importance to get away to a fast start to the year.

“But we have also been rewarded in attracting some of this new breed of young players. Greg Norman contacted me personally about Belen Mozo, who he rates as one of the best prospects he has seen.And Caroline Hedwall won the European qualifying by nine shots and is endorsed by Annika Sorenstam.

“I have no doubts that someone amongst this group of young players will become a household name in the sport. So it’s a rare chance for golf fans to see tomorrow’s golfing stars today here in New Zealand.”

Tuohy said there will be tremendous interest in the performance of the teenage kiwi amateurs Lydia Ko and Cecilia Cho who have been in such great from across the Tasman this summer.

“One of the big reasons for developing this New Zealand Open was to help promote New Zealand’s young emerging talent. Lydia and Cecilia are making the most of their chances in this respect and that is fantastic for the development of women in golf in New Zealand.”

The championship week began with the final qualifying tournament at Waitikiri Golf Club in Christchurch on Monday, official practice and the Junior Girls Golf Challenge on Tuesday, Pro-Am on Wednesday with the tournament proper starting on Thursday.

The Pegasus New Zealand Women’s Open is a co-sanction event with the Australian Ladies Professional Golf and the LET and will be held at the Pegasus Golf & Sports Club, just north of Christchurch.

About Pegasus

Pegasus is a new resort town for up to 7,000 people being built 25 kilometres north of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city. The town, on 420 hectares bordering the beaches of Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury, is part of the Waimakariri District.

Pegasus has been designed to create a community built on a remarkable array of recreational features – a 14 hectare feature lake with 11 sandy and pebbled beaches, a filtered and temperature-controlled swimming bay, natural rock hot pools, 18-hole championship golf course and sports club, restaurants, cafés and bars, primary and pre schools, shopping districts, a superb beach with dedicated surf club, yacht club and recreation hire centre, KidZone adventure park, equestrian centre and much more.

Pegasus is being developed by Infinity Investment Group Holdings Ltd, an experienced Wanaka-based property investment and development company currently carrying out $1.5 billion of development projects in the South Island.