DUBAI // One of the UAE’s leading amateur golfers has described the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) Tour as a “big boost for golf in the Middle East” despite the inaugural regional tournament being staged solely in the UAE.
The tour, sanctioned by the R&A, golf’s governing body, and the Arab Golf Federation, has been introduced to ease the progression of the region’s professionals and amateurs to the European Tour events.
It was anticipated the tour would encompass stops in Morocco, who were initially the driving force behind the concept, as well as Egypt, Tunisia, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Instead, the tour will debut this year at four courses in the UAE.
Golf officials were last night unavailable for comment amid speculation the tour had been confined to one country because of political unrest in the region.
The tour would now appear to play into the hands of the UAE’s top amateurs, who should have the advantage of course knowledge when the first event tees-off in September.
The three remaining events will take place in October.
Ahmed al Musharrekh is excited about the opportunities the tour will provide. “Earlier, the golfers, especially the nationals, we did not have such opportunities,” he said. “Most of them played the game socially. So this I really good for us.
“Obviously, this tour will also help in bringing some new people into the game. Amateur golf will be much higher with the start of this Tour as they will be playing against professionals on a proper Tour.
“So it is a big boost for golf in the Middle East and it will take it to next level.”
The tour boasts a combined prize fund of US$225,000 (Dh826,400), but Khalid Yousuf, the country’s No 1 player, does not believe players will compete for monetary gain.
“Maybe the prize money may be an incentive for some to start, but I don’t think that’s why people play golf,” Yousuf said. “It’s not the money. They play because they enjoy it.”
Yousuf, who has played in the Dubai Desert Classic and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, hopes exposure to this tour will help him improve his scores at future European Tour events.
“It’s very good news for UAE golfers because from what I understand about the Mena Tour, it’s professionals and amateurs,” Yousuf said.
“So it gives a lot of amateurs in the UAE a good chance to test themselves against the professionals, not like on a very high level like the Desert Classic, but on a more competitive level.”
The starting field for the tournaments has been fixed at 100, with 60 slots reserved for professionals and the rest for amateurs.
Entries for the tournament will open from July 1 and close two weeks before the start of the first round of each event.
The top three professionals and the leading amateur from the Order of Merit will receive special invitations to compete in the 2012 Dubai Desert Classic and, possibly, other European Tour events in the region.
With golf returning to the Olympic Games in 2016, after an absence of 112 years, organisers of the Mena Tour are expecting more people to take up the game in the Emirates.
“There is still a lot of room for the game to grow, particularly with golf being in the 2016 Olympics to drive interest,” said Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the vice chairman and chief executive of golf in DUBAi, the promoters and organisers of the Dubai Desert Classic and the Dubai Ladies Masters events.
“I see a very bright future for the game in the Mena region.”