DUBAI //The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) Tour has been earmarked as a vehicle to realise the strong potential of golf in the region.
The tour is the brainchild of Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the chief executive of Golf in DUBAi, and each of the four events will feature 109 players, a mix of professionals and amateurs. The top three professionals and leading amateur after the completion of the fixtures will earn entry into next year's Dubai Desert Classic.
Amateur golfers must be playing off a handicap of one or below to be eligible to join the Tour or compete in tournaments, which will have a minimum prize fund of US$75,000 (Dh275,467) at every event. The tournaments will also carry world amateur ranking points. It is hoped the tournament will help bridge the gap in class between the region's amateurs and the game's professionals.
"The announcement of the Mena Tour, along with the Arab Golf Federation, will play a significant role in the development of the game for Arab nationals as well as expats," said George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour.
"We support and encourage all these initiatives. This will provide the legacy for the game of golf. We applaud all the authorities and federations for their vision to see golf at the forefront of sport.
"Already there are several outstanding amateur players - Khalid Yousuf, Ahmed al Musharrekh and Abdullah al Musharrekh," said O'Grady, speaking at KPMG Golf Business Forum in Dubai yesterday.
The Tour's leading professionals would be given invites to play in the European Tour's Desert Swing tournaments in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain. "The European Tour's presence in the region will continue as local players are developed and more people take up the game," O'Grady said.
Ahmed al Musharrekh agreed with O'Grady and believes the game will be taking a big leap forward with the introduction of the Mena Tour.
"Earlier, the golf players, especially the nationals, we did not have such opportunities," he said.
"Most of them played the game socially. This Tour will bring more youngsters into the game. Amateur golf will be much higher with the start of this Tour. So it is a big boost for golf in the Middle East and it will take it to the next level."
O'Grady also said that the Middle East was now getting the recognition it deserves as a golfing hub.
"I think it took a little time," he said. "People had to get over the big change of playing golf in the new areas such as Dubai. Now the fruits are coming through.
"You can see it here, there are more and more young nationals taking the game up. Every tournament we have, they have academies, they have coaching clinics and I think the word I would like to say is it provides inspiration for people to start playing the game."
The European Tour has had a presence in the country since 1989 when the Dubai Desert Classic was first held. The Emirates Golf Club was the only grass course in the country then.
Now, the UAE boasts 21 golf courses and this spurt, coupled with the economic downturn, has hurt business at most clubs, according to Chris White, the general manager of Aldar Golf. "Golf and any business, in any region, any country, has to be supply to demand related," he said.
"The economy over the last two years has been extremely challenging. But combined with that was the opening of four new golf courses in the last two years, Yas Island, Saadiyat and Earth and Fire.
"So not only were we going into a period of time when people were unsure about taking out a membership, but all of a sudden there were 72 new holes of golf to choose from.
"When we opened the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 1999, we had 600 members in a heartbeat. Where we are right now, it's all about market share. Consumers have a lot more choice than they had in previous years."
Christopher May, the general manager of Dubai Golf, says clubs in Dubai have been able to withstand the economic downturn.
"Emirates Golf Club and the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club are all built on established business models," May said. "They have been through the bad times but have survived because of a business model that works and because of their loyal members, guests and visitors."