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.
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