Ryder Cup golfer Rafael Cabrera Bello attended a special dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on Monday night in celebration of the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge’s return later this month.
Last year marked the first time that the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge appeared on the European Challenge Tour’s calendar, with Jordan Smith winning the event at Al Hamra Golf Club.
The Englishman has since gone from strength to strength, finishing in the top 10 at the PGA Championship earlier this year and clinching the Porsche European Open.
And Cabrera Bello, a mainstay on the European Tour since 2009, believes more gems are set to be unearthed in Ras Al Khaimah this year.
“What I’ve heard from friends who play in the Challenge Tour, they love the event in Ras Al Khaimah – and it introduced a very good winner (in Smith),” said Cabrera Bello, who is a JA Resorts and Hotels ambassador.
“I have a good relationship with the Challenge Tour director (Alain De Soultrait) and he said the biggest improvement on the tour he is how the courses are prepared.
“They are playing on better courses more often which is a big difference from when I played. I think because of this the success ratio for the players who get the European Tour card is much improved.”
The tournament, held this month between October 25-28, is a key part of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority’s (RAKTDA) drive to introduce more attractions to an increasingly popular emirate with tourists.
According to RAKTDA CEO Haitham Mattar, Ras Al Khaimah has become a can’t miss destination for golfers alongside Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“The fact that we have two understated golf courses between Al Hamra’s natural lagoon setting, and the Tower Links, gives us a great advantage for us to position our destination on the map for golf tourism,” he said.
“We are seeing fantastic growth year on year from golfers since Al Hamra has become a championship course.
“Monthly it is well above 35 per cent and that is predominately from players who go to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and are now including Ras Al Khaimah in their tour.”
The Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge will be hotly-contested as it is the last chance for the top 45 golfers on the European Challenge tour to make it into the following week’s NBO Golf Classic Grand final in Oman.
“It’s a very important week for the Challenge Tour. It’s life-changing for the golfers, and the great example is last year’s Ras Al Khaimah champion Jordan Smith, who now stands 71st in the official world golf rankings,” said Nick Tarratt, director of European Tour International Dubai office..
“He’s a great example of how careers and lives have changed, and Ras Al Khaimah is part of that journey and we look forward to the event in year two being bigger and better – and who knows where it will take us.”
Rising star Jordan Smith returned to where it all began at Al Hamra Golf Club, having won the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 that catapulted him into the spotlight.
That victory on the Challenge Tour helped him finish first in the Order of Merit and secure a European Tour card for 2017 – of which he has already taken full advantage.
The 24-year-old won the Porsche European Open in July before making an impact on a worldwide stage with a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship.
Smith recently retraced his steps at Al Hamra Golf Club, catching up with Sport360 reporter Chris Bailey above on the impact of that success and a remarkable year to date.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) September 15, 2017
The prospect of seeing a home-grown player from the UAE making it on the world golfing stage is edging closer to becoming a reality thanks to the ongoing success of the DP World-funded Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) Arabic Schools Initiative.
The innovative programme, which is also supported by the European Tour, launched last year with the first phase seeing the EGF -- with the assistance of Golf DXB -- visiting six UAE schools to give ‘Golf Taster’ sessions to over 3,000 students.
Fifty children were also treated to a visit to the European Tour’s season-ending tournament, the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, where they had a ‘behind the scenes’ tour to get a taste of what is involved in running a world-class golf tournament.
During the introductory phase, 100 children took up memberships at golf clubs across the region. The astounding influx of new young golfers prompted the EGF to create four Foundation Squads at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Emirates Golf Club, The Track Meydan, Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club and Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club.
In addition to their ongoing development at their respective clubs, the Foundation Squads, made up of 40 children, along with the UAE National Squad, are to have access once a month to one of the very best training facilities in the world with coaching sessions at the European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) at Jumeirah Golf Estates.