x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Course may be set for regional tour

Negotiations are at an advanced stage for the launch of a Middle East golf tour and organisers say it will benefit youth and fit in the annual calendar.

A regional tour would help develop young golfers from UAE, like Hassan al Musharrekh.
A regional tour would help develop young golfers from UAE, like Hassan al Musharrekh.

DUBAI // Negotiations are at an advanced stage for the launch of a Middle East golf tour, intended to become a stepping stone for professionals in the region who have aspirations of earning places on the bigger and more established tours around the world. The idea came from Morocco about three years ago and is now being pursued vigorously by leading figures of Golf in Dubai, who organise the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club.

Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the vice-chairman and CEO of Golf in Dubai, is keen to put the blueprint into action and declared that the funding and the facilities are already in place for what would be known as the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Tour. "We could start this tomorrow," said Buamaim. "We have the finances through the Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation to develop such proposals and everybody is aware that we have a plentiful supply of quality courses to make such a plan a success."

The Moroccans have been the driving force behind the plan because of the steady growth of professional golf there and the need to provide their emerging players, several of whom are breaking through to the Challenge Tour, with a higher level of competition without having to use up too much of their travelling budget. Buamaim said the intention was to stage at least one tournament each year in every supporting country which would mean as many as 10 events at the most appropriate time on the global calendar.

"We will try to provide good prize money and, if people from outside want to come and compete for it, then so much the better," he said. "It would not interfere with the Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi Championship [there is also the Qatar Masters on the European Tour's three-week Desert Swing] but the winners of our events might be allocated places in those main tournaments." The plan was given an enthusiastic thumbs-up by the UAE Professional Golfers Association. Jeff O'Brien, their chairman, said: "If it is run in the way we would hope it would be run then it could play a significant part in the development of professional golf in this region. What we don't have at the moment and what is badly needed is a strong bridge between the top amateur players and the pros' Challenge Tour. I see this as a potential development pathway and, if that proves to be the case, it can only do good things for golf at our level and would be a really positive step forward for promising young players."

Leading golfers in the region are likely to support the proposed new tour, according to Simon Payne, the Australian expat, who is on the verge of winning the UAE PGA Order of Merit for the third time in four years. "A lot of our guys spend a fair amount of their time teaching, but I'm sure they would try to work their schedules around this," said Payne, the resident professional at Tower Links golf Club.

"I think it is a great idea for us to get the chance to move up to a higher level and play regularly in these events. That can only improve the standard of golf here and I'm all for that. "Also there could be all sorts of spin-offs. The host courses would obviously benefit and winners of tournaments on this new tour would surely be in contention for starting places in the three European Tour events in this region.

"I've felt very strongly over the years that more wild cards should be available. "It is something I felt should have come my way after winning the UAE Order of Merit." Stephen Hubner, tournament director for the UAE PGA and head professional at Dubai Creek, also reacted enthusiastically. "We would welcome any co-sanctioned events," he said, "and I would be really keen to play in them. "I'm not sure that goes for the majority of our members, though. Some of them already feel that they are punching above their weight trying to compete at the level we have here but there is never any harm in seeking to take that step up to a higher grade."

wjohnson@thenational.ae