Egypt is gearing up to host some of the best golfers on the European Challenge Tour when the Red Sea Egyptian Challenge Presented by Hassan Allam Properties begins in the country from on Wednesday.
It will be the first professional tournament in Egypt as the Challenge Tour returned for the first time since 2010 – the year when Rory McIlroy made a much-publicised appearance.
The second tournament in the 2016 schedule of the European Challenge Tour will be held at the Sokhna Golf Club in Ain Sokhna, a beautiful town on the western shore of the Red Sea’s Gulf of Suez.
It is situated 55km south of Suez and approximately 120 km east of Cairo. The Red Sea Egyptian Challenge will be the professional debut of decorated French amateur, Romain Langasque, who produced a wonderful performance at the Masters earlier this month.
The 20-year-old caught the eye in the final round when he made five birdies during a remarkable back nine as he closed with a fourunder par 68 in his last event as an amateur. That wasn’t enough to win him the prize for the leading amateur, but it was one of the best rounds of the day.
Langasque has already made his debut on the Challenge Tour, finishing second in the season-opening Barclays Kenya Open, where he played as an amateur.
The Frenchman received a Masters invite after winning the Amateur Championship at Carnoustie.
The Egyptian Tourist Authority (ETA), who are supporting the tournament, feel it will help promote Egypt as a golfing destination.
Ahmed Ali Ismail, Tourism Counsellor in the Egyptian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, said: “It will be shown on many TV channels across the world. If after watching the event, golfers are inspired to book a trip to Egypt for a round or two, there are plenty of options in order to combine the sport with a holiday.”
Now that the International Federation of the PGA Tours and the World Golf Ranking governing board has recognised the MENA Golf Tour, founder Mohamed Juma Buamaim has urged the regional federations and tournaments to show similar support to the fledgling Tour.
Earlier this week, the MENA Tour became only the 19th Tour in the world which became eligible to receive world ranking points. That was a cherished dream of Buamaim from the day he announced the formation of the Tour, which has grown from four events in 2011 to 19 this season.
“This is what we aimed for from the first day. It took longer than I anticipated and we really had to work hard to achieve this. But we have got it now and that is the main thing,” said Buamaim.
“This is fantastic for the MENA region, especially with golf making a re-entry into the Olympic Games starting this year. The world ranking provides the pathway for our Arab players to get into the Olympics.
“Now is the turn of the golf federations in the Arab world, and for the various tournaments in the region, to support the MENA Tour.”
Buamaim said there is a ‘comfort factor’ for the players from the region on the MENA Tour, which they do not get anywhere else.
“Many of our Moroccan players play on the EuroPro Tour and in Germany. It makes better financial sense for them to go across to Europe and play. But I have spoken to most of them and they have all said they’d prefer playing on the MENA Golf Tour,” said Buamaim.
“That is because of the comfort factor they have on our Tour. The players from the region are much more comfortable playing here.
“I know most events have been won by foreign players. But almost every foreign champion makes it a point to share his experiences and reaches out to the Arab players. They are very helpful to each other.
“Four years ago, most Moroccan players would finish their rounds and huddle in their own groups. Now, they have learned to converse in English and love to spend time with other players. To me, this is development too. Of course, their game has also become better.”
Buamaim said the ball is now in the court of the federations and also urged the European Tour to give spots to MENA Tour.
“I am not making anything out of this Tour. I am putting in money that we have worked very hard to earn. We do need support from sponsors, but more importantly, from Arab federations and from the European Tour, which has so many events in the region,” he added.
“I am not expecting much. Even if the federations put up the prize money for events in their own countries and urge their players to play our events, I am happy. But they have to realise that MENA Tour is our best way to get into the Olympics.
“And I’d like the European Tour to offer us a few spots in the tournaments they have here.
“For Desert Classic, we have it in the contract that we will have five players from MENA Tour. Why can’t they do something similar with other events? After all, they are respectful to other Tours when they go to other regions and offer them spots. The Chinese Golf Association and the Indian PGA Tour all get spots when the bigger Tours are playing in their area. Why not extend the same courtesy to us?”
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.