The opening round of the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq saw players, caddies and officials wearing purple to mark the official commencement of the newly named Staysure Tour (formerly the European Senior Tour) at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.
It’s the colour of the UK-based insurance company for over 50s which is now the naming sponsor of the tour and it was a fitting choice for American Clark Dennis as last year’s Order of Merit winner hit a veritable purple patch on the stunning Peter Harradine-designed layout on Thursday, firing a bogey-free opening round 65 to roar into the early lead in the northern emirate.
“It’s great. I played very nicely today,” said Dennis. “I didn’t make a bogey and I think I only missed one green. It was a pretty stress-free round, I hit a lot of good shots and could have been a few lower.”
The 52-year-old made an impressive start to the day with three birdies in his opening six holes to set the pace early before lighting up the course on the second loop of the nine-hole track, picking up four birdies in a row from 12 to 15 to get to seven under par.
“It was a really good day and it was a real honour to be able to hit the first shot of the new Staysure Tour in perfect conditions, not a breath of wind for nine holes,” added Dennis.
“The greens are perfect and the course is in phenomenal condition. It’s great to be at the top of the leaderboard – that’s certainly where I want to be at the end of the week.”
Frenchman Marc Farry goes into day two in a share of second place after shooting an opening round of 68. The two-time Staysure Tour winner started the day in red hot form with a front nine of 33 to leave him sitting three under par.
Another three birdies over his first four holes on the back nine put him right in the mix but back to back bogeys on 15 and 16 meant he finished three off the pace at four under par after the opening round.
“I’m very, very happy with the round,” said Farry. “I’ve been working on my short game, especially on my putting the last few weeks in America. The greens are a similar speed and surface to what I have been practising on in Florida.”
England’s Philip Golding and Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant joined the 58-year-old in second after also scoring four under par.
England’s Peter Baker and James Kingston of South Africa make up the top five after rounds of three under par left them four off the lead with a further two rounds to play.
Meanwhile, Kingston’s fellow countryman Chris Williams will be hoping for a better second day after the defending champion could only muster level par on the course that yielded his second Staysure Tour title 12 months ago.
“I was a bit disappointed with my performance out there today,” said the South African.
“It’s great to return here as the defending champion but there’s a lot of pressure on my shoulders which made me quite nervous to begin with. I had my chances today but couldn’t take them.”
Amateur Namir Al Naimi, a member at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club who booked his place in the field via a local qualifier, shot a highly respectable 74 while fellow amateur Steven Kelbrick is one shot further back.
Sharing his thoughts on the first day in Sharjah, His Excellency Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Shurooq, said: “The first day of the tournament was kicked off in style.
“We’ve received outstanding feedback from the players about the emirate’s vibrant weather, as well as their joy at returning to the world-class golf course at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.”
For more information contact the Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club Academy office on 06 548 7777 or email [email protected]
Among household names such as former Ryder Cup stars Des Smyth, Ronan Rafferty and Barry Lane there are also a selection of players making their first forays into senior golf at the 2018 Sharjah Senior Golf Masters presented by Shurooq.
And they’re thriving on the new lease of life the Staysure Tour has breathed into their careers as they get reacquainted with old friends at Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club.
Rafael Gomez, Paul Streeter, Mardan Mamat, John Kemp and David Shacklady secured their Staysure Tour cards through this season’s Qualifying School at Pestana Golf Resort in Portugal and are making their senior level debuts in Sharjah this week.
Streeter turned professional aged 31 in 1997 and earned a total of €77,403 on the European Tour in 44 tournaments, but is now looking to make his mark on the Staysure Tour at the $425,000 event where he’s been given a warm welcome by his fellow stars.
“The Staysure Tour has been fantastic so far,” said the Englishman. “All the players have made me feel so welcome by coming to up me and wishing me well including the legendary Des Smyth.”
Mamat created history when he became the first Singaporean to win on the European Tour when he lifted the 2006 Singapore Masters at his home course of Laguna National Golf and Country Club.
Mamat’s last top three finish was three years ago in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open on the European Tour so he is hoping it won’t be too long before he returns to the winner’s circle at senior level.
“I feel young again,” said the 50 year old – which is the minimum age to compete at this level. “It’s been great to catch up with some old friends in Sharjah and see them still playing so well. I hope I can perform well enough to keep my card this season and stay on the Staysure Tour.”
Englishman Kemp rose from the amateur ranks to the StaySure level after finishing second at Q-School. If he had won, he’d have been the first amateur to win the Senior Tour Qualifying School since Denis O’Sullivan in 1997.
The 50 year old turns his back on an amateur career that includes three British Mid-Amateur victories and the 2013 English Mid-Amateur, as well as qualifying for two Open Championships in 2001 and 2002. He is proud to be competing at this level amongst the elite stars of his era.
“I’ve absolutely loved my first round in the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters,” said Kemp.
“The other guys on the Staysure Tour have been very welcoming. What a great bunch of guys they are. I’ve been working as well as preparing for this tournament so it’s been hard to juggle but I am so happy to be part of this Tour and playing in a beautiful place like Sharjah.”
Head down to Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club this week, where entry is free, to see this new crop of players in action as well as former Ryder Cup stars and senior major champions as they compete for the prestigious Sharjah Senior Golf Masters title.
Two-time world champion Tim Burke reveals all about his journey into the sport, the fitness regime required to compete in the Long Drive World Series and his future ambitions.
The 31-year-old American, who derives from a baseball-playing background, turned out to be a Long Drive natural and has previously recorded a whopping 469-yard shot off the tee.
He said: "For me, a lot of it is upper-body separation from pitching and training in the gym. I do rotational power work every Tuesday and Thursday, and more linear power with rotation each Monday and Friday. It's a whole process and I am competing a lot this year... hopefully I will win my third world championship."
For more information, visit www.longdriveworldseries.com.