x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Mena Tour aims to be a stepping stone

The expanded regional competition will try and develop Arab talent in golf.

Khalid Yousuf is one of two Emirati players who play off a one or better handicap. The other is Ahmed Al Musharrekh.
Khalid Yousuf is one of two Emirati players who play off a one or better handicap. The other is Ahmed Al Musharrekh.

Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the chairman of the Mena Golf Tour, is confident the competition will continue to promote Arab talent as it prepares to enter its second season.

The initiative, introduced last year by the Sheikh Maktoum Golf Federation, is open to both professionals and amateurs from around the world and attracted players from 25 nations to the inaugural tournament.

Its Arab contingent has increased this year, with 23 players - 10 professionals and 13 amateurs - from Morocco alone joining the tour, while the UAE will again be represented by at least Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the Arab Games champion.

The competition has expanded from four events to six, including one in Saudi Arabia, with the top three professionals and the leading amateur receiving invitations to contend the 2013 Dubai Desert Classic.

The amateur will also be awarded the Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation scholarship, a five-week intensive training programme.

"The tour has put Arab talent on centre stage," Buamaim said.

"Before, they were competing in regional events, but this has exposed them to a very competitive international field and has also provided a platform to hone their skills.

"It has opened a new door for them to achieve their dreams. Where else would you get the chance to play in a full European Tour event like the Omega Dubai Desert Classic?

"The tour has ignited their desire to succeed.

"As far as the UAE is concerned, at the moment we have only two Emirati players - Ahmed Al Musharrekh and Khalid Yousuf - who play off a one or better handicap [a stipulation to qualify as an amateur for the tournament].

"They are both talented enough to challenge for the amateur Order of Merit, but this number has to grow if the UAE is to become a regional golfing power.

"This tour is not UAE-centric. It's meant for players who have achieved a certain standard and aim to take their game to the next level."

The Mena Tour, which offers a combined prize fund of US$325,000 (Dh1.2 million), has already enticed 441 players to register - 116 of those amateurs - and begins at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club on September 23.

The field for each event will comprise 100 players, 40 of whom will be amateurs.

The tour's overall ambition is to provide players with a stepping stone to a "second-tier" circuit, a tour one level below the European Tour or US PGA Tour.

"These are still early days, but if the response of the players from the region and outside is anything to go by, we can say the tour is hitting the right notes and has the potential to become a significant one in the future," Buamaim said.

"We have added two more events, but as a young tour we would welcome any support we can. There has been a steady flow of entries, which is good, and we expect a strong field to line up for each event. Our intention remains developing local talent and motivating them to play at the top level."

The competition for prizes has increased with the inclusion of Stephen Dodd, a three-time winner on the European Tour, looking to reignite his faltering career. He takes his place alongside Zane Scotland, another former European Tour member, and Ross Bain, the Dubai-based Asian Tour regular.

"It's great see European Tour stalwarts like Stephen and others look to the Mena Tour for making a comeback," Buamaim said.

"Their entries basically confirm what we have been saying all along: that it's a complete tour in itself with the prime aim of creating a competitive environment for Arab talent."

 

jmcauley@thenational.ae