The MENA Golf Tour will hit the South African shores next week when the South to East Challenge, the first of a three-event leg co-sanctioned with the Sunshine Big Easy Tour, is played at Zwartkop Golf Club in Centurion from June 7-9.
Marking a significant step forward in giving flight to the careers of its members, the golfing safari to the Rainbow Nation will see the MENA players mix with Big Easy Tour stars and vie for honours and a purse of half a million rand for each event — counting towards the Orders of Merit of both the Tours.
The field for the events will feature the top 84 professionals and 12 leading amateurs, split equally between the two Tours.
The new partnership with the Big Easy Tour goes well beyond staging co-sanctioned tournaments as its knock-on effects will see the top five professionals on the MENA Golf Tour’s end-of-season Order of Merit earn playing privileges on the main Sunshine Tour.
In addition, MENA Golf Tour players, ranked between six and 15, will be exempt into the final stage of the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in a move aimed at creating meaningful playing opportunities for players.
“Our new tie-up with South Africa is a great development for golf, one that will resonate on many levels and reinforce the growing strength of the game in the MENA region,” said Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Tour.
“The land of Gary Player and Ernie Els not only has a strong pedigree in golf, but it also boasts some of the best and most beautiful golf courses in the world.
“I am confident our members will have fun playing there alongside Big Easy Tour players.”
Calling it a positive step forward, Grant Wilson, COO of the Sunshine Tour, said: “We look forward to work closely with the MENA Golf Tour to ensure the three-event series is successful.
“We are very excited with our association with the MENA Tour, which, I am confident, will benefit members of both the Tours and help further stimulate the growth.”
I once asked Greg Norman his No1 reason why the Australian professional golfers do so well in tournaments across the world.
The legendary Great White Shark did not have to think much for the answer. “It’s just that we travel well. We seem to adjust wherever you take us.”
Going by Norman’s philosophy, Christofer Rahm seems to be making the right career decision. The 18-year-old Dubai-based Swede, recently crowned Emirates Golf Federation’s Men’s Order of Merit winner this season, is determined to become a professional golfer.
So far, thanks to his father Magnus’ job with Ericsson, he has lived in Sweden, Spain, Brazil and India, before moving to the UAE in 2014.
Winner of four of the 10 EGF Order of Merit events he participated in this season, the Jumeirah Golf Estates (JGE) member Rahm is planning to spend another year playing amateur golf in the UAE. He will then go to the United States for college golf, and turn pro while earning his degree.
“It was nice to secure the Order of Merit win this year. I played in a few EGF tournaments last year, but wasn’t a member until late in the season,” said Rahm, who secured a couple of second place finishes in 2014-15.
“But this year was different. I played consistently throughout the year. I may not have scored very low rounds, but I was very consistent. The only tournament I did not play well was at the JGE. Maybe, I was feeling the home pressure.”
Having finished his school (American School of Dubai) this week, Rahm is planning to take a gap this year in studies, but there is a good reason for that.
“I want to take a break from my studies to focus on golf. I want to practice a lot and play several tournaments this year,” said Rahm who aspires to join the Northwestern University in Chicago because of the quality of their golf team and playing facilities in the campus.
“I will play the EGF events, and I am going to play on the MENA Golf Tour. The main thing is that I want to improve further as a golfer before I go to the US. I do want to get a degree, but I am determined to play golf professionally.”
Having lived in various parts of the world, Rahm is loving it in Dubai. “I enjoy it a lot. The UAE is a great place to live, and even more so if you are a golfer. The golf courses and the practice facilities are great and so is the weather,” said Rahm.
“I practice at the European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) in JGE. They have great facilities and some very good coaches. I was training with Mathew Parker there. Unfortunately, he moved on, but we are still in touch.
“The last time I was in Sweden, all my friends were coaching indoors. That’s never an issue here in Dubai. I do not mind the summer heat and prefer it to cold weather any day.”
The effect of travel shows on Rahm. While fellow Swede Henrik Stenson is his favourite golfer, his childhood idol was the late Seve Ballesteros.
“Of all the golfers, I love Henrik. What I like most about him is he is always up there, but more importantly, he is a very good human being,” said Rahm.
“But growing up in Spain, I idolized Seve. I loved his imagination on the golf course.
“I feel I am a bit like Seve. I am not all about technique. I like being creative on the golf course like him.”
Rahm understands he is about to embark on a difficult journey, and says this would not have been possible without the support of his parents Magnus and Cecilia.
“What I have achieved and what I dream could not have been possible without them. Even after a bad round, they are there to encourage me. Really, they are my biggest fans,” he added.
Now in its fifth edition at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club, the competition has proved to be a big hit with hundreds taking to the greens. And next month’s will be no different.
Beginning on the first day of Ramadan, which could begin on June 6 (and can change according to the moon sighting), the series will run for a month with daily and overall prizes to be won.
Open to players with a valid handicap, the format will see them play in a nine-hole stableford competition and they can play as many times as they want per day.
“We run the tournament each year and it’s something people can look forward to that they can play some competitive golf at Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club,” said Mark Ruddy, golf events manager at the venue.
“The previous editions have been a huge success. Last year, we had over 250 players play throughout Ramadan with over 800 entries so we were quite overwhelmed by the response. People were playing six or seven times an average and, besides the regulars, there were a lot of new faces which was great to see.”
With the Ramadan Stableford Series just one of many events on Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club’s calendar, Ruddy isn’t surprised by how highly it’s regarded and expects an even bigger turn-out this year.
“With the feedback we got from the players so far, I think we will have even bigger numbers. We expect more than 1,000 entries and that is quite impressive,” he said.
The series is open for juniors, visitors, Emirates Golf Club and Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club members, with entry fees priced at Dh10 per play plus the standard 9-holes green fee.
Golfers can play from 07:00 to 21:00 daily, while on Wednesdays, the course will be open until 01:00.
With not long to go until the series begins, Ruddy insists it’s a tournament not to be missed.
“The best thing about this tournament is that it’s really popular and it’s great value,” he said. “There are attractive prizes to win daily while there are accolades for the overall top-three. It’s ideal for those who want to keep playing the sport throughout the summer and get ready for the winter season when it begins.”
What: Golf World Ramadan 9-Hole Stableford Series
Where: Sharjah Golf and Shooting Club
When: From June 6 (dates could change according to moon sighting) until July 7/8 (when Eid Al Fatr begins)
Contact: For more information, visit www.golfandshootingshj.com