On the day Mohamed Juma Buamaim announced the formation of the MENA Golf Tour way back in 2011, I sat down for an interview with him.
One of the questions I asked him was how would he quantify the success of his Tour in the future.
Buamaim was quick to answer. The MENA Tour needed to do two things – one, it must produce Arab champions and two, it must be able to pave the way for golfers from the region to become eligible for the Olympics.
The first part has already been achieved. Three years and 15 days after the inaugural event was played at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on September 25, 2011, Morocco’s Ahmed Marjane became the first winner from the region by claiming the 2014 Ras Al Khaimah Classic.
Foreign players have dominated the Tour in the first five years, but that was kind of expected. And yet, the advent of the MENA Tour has made a significant impact. The first Emirati professional golfer, Ahmed Al Musharrekh, has gone on record to state that the opportunities created by the Tour was one of the main reasons he decided to join the paid ranks. And various amateurs from the MENA region have gained immense experience by competing with the pros.
The Olympics remains the big aim. As is the case of most countries where golf is in a developing phase, the impact of entry into the quadrennial Games is massive. It means government recognition and grants, and it brings the sport to the forefront when a major part of the local population is interested in other sports.
It was Buamaim’s cherished dream to make his MENA Tour the pathway for golfers from the region to the five-ringed spectacle. However, for the players to qualify for the Olympics, the most basic criteria is that they must have a world ranking.
Buamaim’s perseverance finally paid off earlier this week when the governing board of the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) approved the MENA Tour for world ranking points.
It is remarkable that the Tour managed to achieve it in just its fifth year of existence, but when you have the single-mindedness that Buamaim has shown, it is understandable why the OWGR board were impressed.
To start with, most events on the MENA Tour are still funded by Buamaim’s ‘Golf in Dubai’. But he does understand that it will take time to win over the sponsors.
What began as a four-event, single-country Tour, has global reach now. It has tied up with the Sunshine Tour for events in South Africa, has deep-rooted ties with Morocco, held its inaugural qualifying school in Spain and will be visiting Thailand for two weeks next month.
The world rankings are extremely important for the MENA Tour players. While there is no doubt that foreign players are mostly going to benefit for the first few years, it does open up chances for players from the region. Given the qualification guidelines, a couple of wins by an Arab player will put them in a good spot.
The 60th and last player qualifying for 2016 Rio Olympics as of now is Bangladesh’s Siddikur Rahman, who is ranked 373rd in the world with just 17.58 points. Four wins on the MENA Tour in a two-year period (that’s the time frame for the calculation of world ranking) could fetch a player up to 20 points.
What started off as a distant dream for the region’s players, is definitely closer to reality now.
Coinciding with golf’s return to the Olympic Games this year after more than a century, the landmark decision, taken during a governing board’s meeting held on the sidelines of the 2016 Masters Tournament in Augusta, will provide a fresh energy boost for the development of sport across the board in the region.
With the ranking system coming into effect at the Ras Al Khaimah Classic, starting on May 2 at Tower Links Golf Club, the MENA Golf Tour has become the 19th Eligible Golf Tour from around the world in what is seen as validation of the vast potential of the tour in the region.
“We are really delighted about this recognition, a major step forward for a tour which aims to maximise the region’s enormous potential for golf. The tour is now complete in every sense of the word, one that will open the door to new horizons,” said Darren Clarke, the Patron of the tour.
“The MENA region is an increasingly important market for the game as a lot of fresh talent coming up through the ranks over the last few years. With each tour event carrying world ranking points, the momentum will only pick up pace,” said Clarke, the 2016 European Ryder Cup captain.
“From my experience I can tell this tour is the fastest growing professional golf tour in the world. With all the prize money, new destinations and OWGR points, I think this is going to go in one direction,” he added.
Terming it a new sunrise for golf in the region, Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, said: “With OWGR points on offer, the MENA Golf Tour members, especially from the region, can hope to target qualification to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as a more realistic goal. For any sportsperson there is no bigger honour than having the opportunity to represent your country,” he said.
“With a population of close to 400 million, golf in the region certainly has the potential to grow even bigger. Support from the corporate world will be crucial put things on cruise control,” he said.
“At the end of the day, all we want is to try and stimulate growth of golf in the Arab world and entice new talent to the sport,” he said.
The MENA Golf Tour has also entered into a new partnership with the Sunshine Tour this season which will see its five top professionals on the Order of Merit earn playing privileges on the South Africa-based tour.
Selwyn Nathan, Commissioner of Sunshine Tour, said: “We are very excited with our association with the MENA Tour, which, I am confident, will benefit our members and help further stimulate the growth of golf. I congratulate them on being awarded the awarded world ranking status they deserved.
“We look forward to welcoming the tour in Johannesburg next month and hope their members will enjoy the city’s unique position as a diverse and high quality golfing destination.”
The sanctioning of world ranking points is the latest addition to a raft of incentives offered on tour that includes multiple European Tour starts, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Hassan II Trophy and the Maybank Championship Malaysia in addition to playing privileges on the Sunshine Tour and exemptions into the Final Stage of the Asian Tour Q-School for the leading three professionals are some of the added incentives for the MENA Golf Tour members.
Held under the auspices of the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation and affiliated to the Arab Golf Federation and the R&A, the MENA Golf Tour has grown from strength to strength boasting 20 events in the 2016 season, marking a major step forward from inaugural season in 2011 when it featured four events.
Joseph Andrade, the former Captain of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, has put himself in prime position to win the Indian Golfers Society’s (IGS) inaugural Golfer of the Year award ahead of the Summer Open, the fourth and final event of the season.
Andrade has racked up 2,916 points in the first three events, helped by consistent performances in all three tournaments, closely followed by Ashok Sindhu (2,683) and Kush Sama (2,587).
The fifth edition of the Summer Open gets underway at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday, April 21, with a 12:45 shotgun start. With 2,000 points up for grabs for the champion and 1,600 for the runner-up, a host of players are within striking distance of Andrade.
The introduction of the Golfer of the Year, which is presented to the winner of the Order of Merit title, is one of the major highlights of the new IGS season, aimed at keeping the competition interesting throughout the four events.
The Summer Open, which has already been fully subscribed, will follow the individual stableford format with three-fourth of the course handicap. Prizes will be presented to the top three in the two divisions.
The top-40 players from the Order of Merit will be eligible to compete in the ‘Race to Scotland’ tournament, which will be held at Jumeirah Golf Estates in May.
With Bentley as the main sponsor of the society, the IGS events are supported by Nexus, Chivas, Chesterton, Midcom, Al Dhahra Kohinoor and AIPL.