History will be made when Shaikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Arab Golf Federation, formally inaugurates the MENA Golf Tour at 11am on Monday at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, the venue of the Tour’s first event – the Abu Dhabi Golf Citizen Open.
The tour, the first of its kind in the region, will create a competitive environment for players to showcase their talent on the global stage. For some Asian Tour players, like Yasin Ali, it will be an opportunity to resurrect their fledgling career while young prodigies, like Joel Neale, who has just turned professional, will know what it takes to compete in the paid ranks.
Young Neale, who becomes the fourth player after Andy Andrews, Christopher Davies and Rhea Nair to turn pro after being introduced to the game through the UAE’s Junior Development Programme, will join a strong field of 72 players, which includes 15 amateurs in the opening event on the MENA Golf Tour.
Morocco, the winners of the recent Arab Golf Championship, has the strongest overseas representation in the field with as many as 11 players vying for honours, followed by United Kingdom (six), Kenya and Pakistan (five each) and United States (four) among others.
The field also includes 24 UAE-based players of which five are amateurs, including Emirates Golf Federation’s Order of Merit leader Miki Mirza, Michael Harradine and Vikram Judge, who will be going all out to make their presence felt in the first Tour event which has attracted players from 18 countries.
The cut will be made after 36 holes with the top 50 and ties making it to the final round.
A superb new initiative by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, the Tour comprises four events in its inaugural edition, and each will receive official R&A recognition and carry World Amateur ranking points.
The top three professionals and the leading amateur from the Order of Merit will receive special invitations to compete in the 2012 Omega Dubai Desert Classic and, possibly, other Tour events in the region.
“We are really pleased with the overall response to the Tour,” said Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour. “Players from different parts of the world have signed up, giving the tour a global taste,” he said.
“I have this sense of satisfaction that the JDP programme that I started during my stint with the UAE Golf Association (now known as the Emirates Golf Federation) is yielding results with four of the players who learned the basic rudiments of the game there have gone on to become professionals.
“They need opportunities to take their game to the next level, and that’s one big reason that led to the creation of the MENA Golf Tour. They have the platform now and how they exploit it, it’s up to them.
“These are the early days, but with time the top players on the MENA Golf Tour will get invitations to play on other tours as well. I am pleased to announce that the organisers of the King Hassan II Trophy in Morocco have already agreed to reserve a couple of spots for them.
“We are in talks with officials of the Asian Tour and Indian Tour and they have indicated their desire to invite the leading MENA Golf Tour players to their respective events in the near future. Organisers of the European Tour events in Abu Dhabi and Doha may also come on board to contribute their bit in the development of the game in the region,” he added.
The MENA Golf Tour, which boasts a combined prize fund of US$ 225,000 (Dh826,000), is funded by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation while Omega is the Official Timekeeper and Mercedez-Benz the official car sponsor.
The first event at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club will be followed by the Ras Al Khaimah Classic at the Tower Links Golf Club (Oct 2 to 5), the Shaikh Maktoum Dubai Open at Al Badia Golf Club (Oct 9 to 12) and the MENA Tour Championship at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting and Golf (Oct 16 to 19).