Golf in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will take centre-stage when a new golf tour, aimed at realising a strong potential of growth in the region, tees off later this year.
An initiative by the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, the MENA Golf Tour seeks to create “new windows of playing opportunities” for all MENA national professionals and amateurs which will not only hone their golfing skills, but will also enhance the overall development of golf in the region. The MENA Golf Tour is open to all MENA National and International Professional and Amateur golfers. Amateur golfers must be of handicap 1 and below on joining the tour as well as at the start of each tournament.
Affiliated to R&A — the worldwide golf governing body based at St Andrews — and the Arab Golf Federation, the tour will have four stops to begin with, and each tournament will receive official R&A recognition and carry World Amateur ranking points. There will be a separate Order of Merit for Professionals and Amateurs.
The aim is to organise four tournaments for the first season. With each event carrying a minimum prize-fund of US$75,000, the tour promises to substantially enhance the careers of its members.
The Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation was set up in 2006 by golf in DUBAi — the promoters and organisers of the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters and the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters – to identify and nurture the talented youth in the MENA region with the aim of producing a future generation of champions
Explaining the mission of the MENA Golf Tour, Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi, said: “We are organising the tour primarily to expand tournament golf and provide a much-needed springboard for both amateurs and professional to take their game to a new level.
“There is no shortage of talent in the region and even the facilities are second to none, but the players lack regular exposures to high-class competitions and the tour, hopefully, will create the right environment to develop their skills,” he said.
“By working together with the Arab Golf Federation, the tour will deliver better events and golf will be seen as more serious and more credible,” he added.
Shaikh Fahim bin Sultan Qasimi, speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the Arab Golf Federation, said the tour could well mark a watershed moment in the history of golf in the region.
“With international professional and amateurs joining the tour as full members, it will contribute immensely to the promotion of golf in the region," said Shaikh Fahim, who is also the chairman of the Emirates Golf Federation.
“The tour will also help position the region on the sporting map as an emerging market and drive golf tourism. The importance of the region, which has a population of about 400 million, is enhanced by its exceptional location as it acts as a bridge between vibrant Asian economies, European-Mediterranean partnership opportunities and Africa’s significant potential for development,” he said.
Thomas Bjorn, a golf in DUBAi ambassador and chairman of the European Tour players' committee, was equally upbeat about the success of the MENA Golf Tour. “As more leading events come to the region, bringing stiffer competition, the knock-on effect has been a rapid improvement in the quality of players,” he said.
“The standard of golf in the region has risen to such an extent that I believe it is just a matter of time before a real champion emerges. There is still a lot of room for the game to grow, particularly with golf being in the 2016 Olympics to drive interest. I see a very bright future for the game in the MENA region,” he added.
The MENA Golf Tour is open to all professionals and amateurs (handicap one or below) from the region and each tournament will follow a 72-hole stroke play format. The normal starting field for an event will comprise 109 players of which 60 per cent will be professionals and the rest amateurs. There will be a separate order of merit for professionals and amateurs each event.
The exact dates for the tournaments are being worked out and will be announced shortly.