x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai Desert Classic gets tougher to reach for UAE golfers

A four-event Mena Tour is launched and will serve as qualification for the big events like Dubai Desert Classic.

The aim of the Mena Tour is to make it tougher for the region's professionals and amateurs to qualify for the Dubai Desert Classic.
The aim of the Mena Tour is to make it tougher for the region's professionals and amateurs to qualify for the Dubai Desert Classic.

DUBAI // The leading UAE golfers yesterday welcomed the challenge laid down by the Middle East and North African (Mena) Tour to make qualification for the region's top professional events more rigorous for local players.

Organisers of the four-event inaugural competition - the first of which tees off in September - yesterday declared they have ostensibly introduced the tour to raise the level of competition among players in the Middle East and North Africa.

The intention is to place a higher price on qualifying for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic next year.

Last year Khalid Attieh and Calllum Nicoll qualified as the professional and amateur respectively after a single day of qualifying.

Now the process will be more difficult. There will be a separate Order of Merit for professionals and amateurs. The top three professionals and the leading amateur from the Order of Merit will be invited to play in the Dubai Desert Classic, which included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the field last year

"We have been putting everything on a plate for people," Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the chairman of the Mena Tour, said. "They should work hard like everyone else to get into these tournaments."

Khalid Yousuf, the UAE's top player, will embrace the process, despite it meaning an end to the previous wild-card entries he enjoyed at the Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi Championship.

"It is much better for our development as golfers if we get stronger competition," Yousuf said.

"If, for example, I don't qualify for the Desert Classic this year because another amateur player is better than me over these four tournaments, then that's fine because I will have learnt a lot.

"Before this we qualified by playing against each other and you need the challenge of competing against players from other counties, rather than being in the same group all the time.

Yousuf will take his place in a 100-strong field, which will be made up of 60 per cent professionals and carry a prize fund of US$225,000 (Dh830, 000).

"We are all looking forward to the Mena Tour," Yousuf said.

"It's going to be a fantastic learning experience."

Organisers believe the prize money and the carrot of qualification for the Desert Classic will provide sufficient incentive to professionals and amateurs from outside the region who will make up any shortfall in the field of a 100.

"To have these qualifying places for the Dubai Desert Classic is a massive boost," Buamaim said.

"That means Abu Dhabi and Qatar could possibly take some qualifying spots from the Tour as well in the future, which is a real incentive for international players to come and play.

"This tour is not just about people in the Mena region. Anyone in the world can join it and our prize money is larger than when Japan started their tour. We have been in contact with the other golf federations and they are all willing to provide courses. But they, like us in the UAE, are still developing golf within the country."

Buamaim said the plan is to expand the tour to at least 10 tournaments and stage events around the region, as was first mooted. The chairman denied the four tournaments were being staged in the safe haven of the UAE because of political unrest elsewhere.

"The reason these first four will all be played here is a logistical one," Buamaim said.

"When things calm down in North Africa and other countries in the region then, hopefully, we will move there. Can that happen next year? I don't know the politics but if things were fine then yes."