Jamie Elson won the inaugural Ayla Golf Championship in a tense playoff on Saturday, holing a four-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to beat fellow Englishman Luke Joy in an exciting finish to the first professional golf event in the country.
Elson, the current MENA Tour Order of Merit leader, eagled the final hole in regulation en route to a closing 68 to set the clubhouse target of a seven-under-par 212 that Joy matched with a 72, birdieing the last after producing a stunning hole-in-one on the 12th.
Both birdied the first extra hole to extend the proceedings, but a wayward drive by Joy opened the door for Elson to secure his breakthrough win on the MENA Tour he first played last year.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre fired a sizzling nine-under 64 to set a new course record, eclipsing a 67 shot by Sweden’s Henric Sturehed in the second round to move into a four-way tie for third on six-under after an action-packed day.
England’s Joe Heraty, who carded a bogey-free 68, Italy’s Rocco Sanjust (67) and Sturehed (73) joined MacIntyre in the group, four clear of the English duo Zane Scotland and Lee Corfield and Sweden’s Fredrik From.
“Quite surprised to win, to be honest. Struggled a bit on the front nine, but made a nice birdie on the ninth to get to level-par for the day. Thereafter, I played solid golf and holed putts when I needed to, to get into the playoff,” said Elson after receiving the winner’s trophy from HE Nasser Sultan Shraideh, Chief Commissioner, Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority.
“Playoff could have gone either way, but I hit some great shots and made putts to get the job done, finally,” said the 36-year-old Englishman, eagled the last in regulation, hitting his eight-iron approach from 185 yards to with two feet.
Scotland’s MacIntyre, tied for 15th at the start, produced the round of the tournament to make his professional debut an event to remember.
“I was far off from the field after a disappointing 78 in the opening round and had nothing to lose. Played a bit aggressively and that approach paid off,” said the Scotsman, who eagled the final hole after hitting his nine-iron approach from 168 yards to within nine yards.
“I can always take a lot of confidence out of the last two bogey-free rounds, a lot of positives,” said the 21-year-old, who hails from Oban, a resort town within the Argyll and Bute council area of Scotland.
England’s Todd Clements, the first round joint leader with Joy, closed with a 72 to share the honours with Michael Harradine of Switzerland in the amateur division after both finished on one-over-par 220, well ahead of Saudi Arabia’s Othman Almulla and Jordan’s Shergo Al Kurdi who tallied matching 13-over for the tournament.
England’s Mark Chamberlain also had something to cheer about as he aced the 179-yard, par-3 16th with an eight-iron for his first hole-in-one since turning professional in 2011 — and the fifth overall — as he finished tied 47th.
The MENA Tour will travel to Kuwait for the Sahara Kuwait Golf Championship to be held from October 16 to 18, the last event on this year’s schedule before the field whittles down for the 72-hole Tour Championship hosted by Al Zorah Golf Club in Ajman from October 23 to 26.
Ten months after blitzing the European Challenge Tour field at the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge, England’s Jordan Smith believes the emirate’s Al Hamra Golf Club is in “perfect shape” to host the future stars of the global game when the tournament returns to the UAE’s northern-most emirate from October 25-28.
Smith, who secured his first PGA European Tour card following a memorable wire-to-wire display in Ras Al Khaimah last October, has shot to the upper echelons of the game following a stunning rookie year in Europe.
England’s Jordan Smith, is now considered one of the brightest emerging stars in global golf. He proved he is just as accomplished with a paddle as an eight-iron during a fun-filled paddleboard-meets-golf stunt at Al Hamra Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah last week.
Having secured multiple top 10 finishes and a maiden Tour win at August’s Porsche European Open in Hamburg, Germany, Smith 24, has risen to 69th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), currently sits in a lofty 17th in the Race to Dubai rankings, and has guaranteed his place in the season-ending, $8 million DP World Tour Championships at Jumeirah Golf Estates, November 16-19.
And despite defying the odds with seasoned displays which dispel his rookie status, Smith attributes his glorious four-day performance in Ras Al Khaimah last winter as the precursor to this year’s meteoric rise to global prominence.
The Englishman was challenged to the unique ‘PaddleGolf’ test by Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA), Canadian Claudine Foong, a former touring professional and current wellness and performance coach, and her husband, Alex Riggs, a Canadian PGA Coach.
The ‘PaddleGolf’ challenge saw Smith and Foong paddleboard approximately 1,000 metres from the new Al Hamra Sailing Club through the tranquil waters of Al Hamra Marina, before stepping on to a floating pontoon to fire 140-yard shots towards a makeshift pin on the 18th green of Al Hamra Golf Club – the venue of next month’s Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge, which returns to the UAE’s northernmost emirate from October 25-28.
Smith, who secured his first PGA European Tour card following a memorable wire-to-wire display at the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge last October, even managed to sink one of his shots, leaving him in a buoyant mood on his first return to Al Hamra since lifting the European Challenge Tour event’s trophy 10 months ago.
With a 105-strong roster of the world’s up-and-coming golf stars due to tee-off in the second Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in six weeks’ time, Haitham Mattar, CEO of RAKTDA, which organises the event, was thrilled to see Smith back in the emirate.
“It’s fantastic that Jordan has taken some time out from his busy European Tour schedule to return to Ras Al Khaimah. As Jordan’s outstanding season proves, the European Challenge Tour remains a fertile breeding ground for nurturing talents that regularly progress to become household names in the professional game. I’m sure this year’s Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge will once again shine the spotlight on the next generation of future stars,” said Mattar.
“It’s great to have him back here with us and on behalf of all his fans in Ras Al Khaimah we wish him a successful end to his rookie season on the European Tour.”
Smith, who is in the emirate preparing for the finale of the European playing season, added: “I’d had a very strong Challenge Tour season last year but winning in Ras Al Khaimah was the icing on the cake.
“Performing so consistently with so much on the line was a huge confidence boost and I’ve been fortunate enough to carry that form into my rookie season on the European Tour. Everything is going well but there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think how important my Ras Al Khaimah win was in getting me to where I am today. I’m only really at the start of my golf career – a bit like Ras Al Khaimah – and it’s going to be a long journey but that particular junction was a crucial point in my progression.”
The Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge, the penultimate event of this season’s European Challenge Tour, has attracted a marquee line-up of sponsors for its second edition including Emirates Airline, the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Group and Al Hamra Golf Club.
With the world’s up-and-coming golf stars due to tee-off in the second Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in six weeks’ time, Smith, who cannot defend his title having graduated to the European Tour ranks, believes Al Hamra Golf Club will prove a stern test for this year’s crop of emerging European Challenge Tour superstars.
“The Al Hamra course is in very good condition; you would never guess we’re at the tail-end of a scorching summer season in Ras Al Khaimah. It will be in perfect shape by the time the guys touch down. If you can keep the ball straight off the tee and stay away from the lagoons, the course can be relatively straight-forward, but with so much at stake in the season’s penultimate tournament it will definitely test the field – I have no doubts about that.”
The ringing endorsement of the verdant Al Hamra course is music to the ears of Andrew Matthews, Head of the Golf Club: “It’s fantastic to have Jordan back here playing the course ahead of this year’s tournament. We’ve had the opportunity to run a few changes we’re planning past him – things like pin placements, tee positions and areas of rough – and he was very responsive to the work being overseen by the organisation team and greenkeepers.”
For more information on the Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge and The Road to Oman 2017 visit www.europeantour.com/challengetour.
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.”