x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Mena Tour could join the big boys’ club

Status of golf tour getting stronger than ever as competition may be elected to International Federation of PGA Tours committee, writes John McAuley.

The Mena Tour has become increasingly competitive, according to Zane Scotland. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
The Mena Tour has become increasingly competitive, according to Zane Scotland. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

DUBAI // All around Al Badia Golf Club on Sunday, there were signs of a Mena Tour in rude health.

On the course, and ahead of Monday’s Sheikh Maktoum Dubai Open, 16 players scrapped for the final few places at an already well-stocked event – the first time the tournament has held a shoot-out for slots in the field.

Inside the clubhouse, Zane Scotland and Stephen Dodd, the tour’s star attractions, paid homage to the highly competitive 2013 season, reiterating how difficult it has become to swell their hefty collections of titles.

And tour chairman Mohamed Juma Buamaim spoke proudly of Mena’s showcasing of regional and Arab talent and, through its broadcast highlights package, the circuit’s reach to “millions of homes” across the continents.

Yet it was thousands of kilometres away, at the celebrated Muirfield Village in Ohio, that Mena could receive perhaps its most ringing endorsement. Having been invited by the International Federation of PGA Tours, a body comprised of the game’s major tours, to July’s British Open to present the details of their expanding competition, Mena is poised to be elected onto its committee. If a decision to include Mena is not made in Ohio, the panel reconvenes next April at Augusta, during the Masters.

Either way, with Mena only halfway through its third season, it would represent a tangible acknowledgement of the fledgling Sheikh Maktoum Golf Foundation’s initiative as a legitimate, permanent and well-run tour. It would represent a major boost to the Mena’s credibility.

“For a tour to establish itself in the game, it’s important to be a part of [the federation], because it gives strength to the tour,” Buamaim said. “So our aim was to have some sort of association with them, and they were very good about it. They all understand where we are coming from.

“That they’re inviting us is a good step. To be able to actually go there and explain what we’re doing is important.”

For a tour to be incorporated, it must be at least three years old. Mena’s growth in that period underlines a steady development, with its initial four-event calendar extended to six last season and 10 for this campaign.

Originally confined to the UAE, the calendar now includes stops in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with organisers confident that more countries will be added. At last week’s Dirab Golf Championship, 24 countries were represented, while this week’s field includes 121 players.

An acceptance by the International Federation would only strengthen Mena’s appeal — it is already affiliated to the Arab Golf Federation and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club – and should encourage increased numbers, and a higher calibre, of entrants. “It’s more recognition that we’re a creditable tour, and that we’ll eventually have world-ranking points associated with the events,” said Adrian Flaherty, the Mena commissioner. “It gives a huge boost in credibility.

“We were very well-received at the Open. Everyone was very complimentary about what we’ve done in such a short period of time, about how much growth we’ve seen.

“And obviously the Mena region is not that well-recognised in the world of golf at the moment. It has large European Tour events, but this went a long way to showing the federation what Mena’s all about and why we’re doing it. It showed them how much we’ve progressed in three years.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae