Significant strides made by Saudi Arabia in promoting golf in the vibrant Kingdom and across the region will take centre-stage when the American Express Dirab Golf Championship, the fourth stop on this year’s MENA Golf Tour, gets under way on Monday.
Leading the home challenge against a deeply talented field will be HRH Prince Khalid bin Saud Al Faisal, who will be making his second appearance in the $50,000 event which is sanctioned by the Saudi Golf Association.
In all six home players, including one professional (Ali Belhareth), will join the 85-player field which comprises 59 professionals and 26 amateurs. It may sound a quixotic challenge, but the home players are adamant that they can be as competitive as anyone in the field, especially in the amateur division.
An avid golfer, Prince Khalid has already distinguished himself by bringing his handicap down to scratch, and he will be competing in the amateur division which will also see a number of Arab players from Morocco, Bahrain and UAE contest for honours in what could lead to a healthy regional rivalry.
The Moroccan duo of Ahmed Marjan (85 points) and Mustapha El Maouas (81) are currently leading the Order of Merit race in the amateur division, but they have their work cut out with the likes of England’s Jean-Michel Hall and Max Williams making big moves at the recently-concluded Dubai Creek Open.
“We feel proud and privileged to have HRH Prince Khalid in the field. His gesture to sign up for the event is a great advertisement for the overall development of the game in the Kingdom,” said Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour.
“This is our second visit to Saudi Arabia, but the tournament has already created a buzz with a quality field going out to experience the golfing facilities at Dirab Golf and Country Club. The success of this event, I am sure, will encourage other countries in the region to have their own event on the MENA Tour.
“We want is to see Arab golfers play well on the tour. Hopefully, the presence of HRH Prince Khalid will provide just the inspiration they need to excel on the stage,” he added.
With two wins, a second and US$ 23,000 in the bank from the first three events of the 2013 edition of the Tour, England’s Zane Scotland, who is also a ‘golf in DUBAi’ ambassador, will be the odds-on favourite, but he will have to watch out for Pakistan’s Shafiq Masih, last year’s winner in Saudi Arabia.
Shafiq may have missed the cut at last week’s Dubai Creek Open, but he is confident of making a comeback. “I am pretty familiar with the course where I have been a teaching professional for many years.
“Local knowledge and memories of last year’s win makes feel great coming back to Dirab Golf and Country Club. It will be lot of fun if I can win here again. Anything can happen in golf, but my confidence is on a high,” he said.
Morocco’s Younes Al Hassani, currently placed fourth on the Order of Merit, will fancy his chances of continuing his hot streak while UAE’s Ahmed Al Musharrekh needs to go up a level if he is to challenge at this week’s event.
Located 45km south west of Riyadh, the Dirab Golf and Country Club is all spruced up and looking good to welcome players. The club, along with the Saudi Golf Association and American Express, hosted a dinner for all players and officials on Sunday to mark the start of the event.
A superb initiative of the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, the MENA Golf Tour is affiliated to R&A and the Arab Golf Federation. The 10-stop tour, which is backed by Omega and Mercedes-Benz, boasts a combined prize fund of $525,000.
MENA Golf Tour Orders of Merit after the Dubai Creek Open:
1. Zane Scotland (England) US$ 23,000
2.Stephen Dodd (Wales) $12,730
3. Ian Keenan (England) $10,211
4. Younes El Hassani (Morocco) $7,822
5. Greg Snow (Kenya) $4,948
6. Duncan Stewart (Scotland) $3,639
1.Ahmed Marjan (Morocco) 85 points
2. Mustapha El Maouas (Morocco) 81
3.Jean-Michel Hall (England) 66
4.Max Williams (England) 47
5.Mehdi Saissi (Morocco) 44