The Ladies European Tour (LET) tournament tees off at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club with 126 of the Europe’s finest female golfers vying to become the inaugural winner in the UAE capital.
Swedish legend Sorenstam, 46, will use her role as tournament ambassador to scout players ahead of next year’s Solheim Cup, although for now she has a bigger goal in mind.
“It’s nice to be here with the LET and to be a part of history,” said the European Solheim Cup captain.
“I’ve never been here before but I’ve brought my whole family because we wanted to share it together.
“The first female professional event in Abu Dhabi, that says a lot, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it and hopefully inspire the young women and girls to pick up the game, introduce them to it and spread the message, it’s fantastic.”
The top table, including golf legend Annika Sorenstam, and LET professionals Beth Allen and Melissa Reid pic.twitter.com/g07PFaU0pC— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) October 31, 2016
One entrant to look out for in Abu Dhabi will be American Beth Allen – currently second on the 2016 LET Order of Merit behind China’s Shanshan Feng.
“It’s a very special event and obviously it would be great to win it,” admitted the 35-year-old. “I’m second on the Order of Merit so it would be nice to do that.
“It’s a great course and I’m excited to tee off. It’s a risk versus reward course. I think it will be a challenge and I also think a good ball striker will win this event.”
Her belief in a ball striker being favourite was backed up by England’s Melissa Reid, who is excited to be playing a tournament on a course she is very familiar with.
“I’m very honoured to be here for the inaugural championship. Saadiyat is a place that’s close to my heart,” said the 29-year-old who is 38th on the Order of Merit.
“I always come here during preseason to do boot camps so I’m excited and very proud we now have an LET tournament here.
“I think the course is superb, one of the best courses we play all year, if not the best. It’s going to be a great test and I think it’s going to be a ball striker that wins this tournament.
“This week’s also about the responsibility that we have as players to the local women. If we can inspire one woman to take up the game of golf then we will have achieved something.”
Dr Mai Al Jaber, of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy, meanwhile, is excited for the legacy the tournament could help create in the Emirates.
She said: “The event is a landmark event. It will bring together the world’s best female golfers and give Emirati women a unique chance to meet their favourite stars.
“Hopefully it will inspire more engagement from Emirati women with the goal of achieving their sporting aspirations.”
The tournament concluded on Saturday with England’s Jordan Smith winning the tournament.
Being the penultimate event of the 2016 European Challenge Tour season, the $350,000 tournament garnered immense interest, with players praising the playing conditions, the facilities and the hospitality offered by the emirates.
Haitham Mattar, CEO of RAKTDA, said: “We are yet to get a full de-brief of the event, but from whatever I have heard from players and fans, everyone seems to love the inaugural RAK 2016 Golf Challenge.
“The first reactions you get is obviously from the Tour players and they have been glowing in their praise. They loved what we had to offer and had some very good words for the golf course. These players have played the world over, so they have experience of various countries and know what they are talking.
“Really, our first objective with the tournament was to showcase the emirates of Ras Al Khaimah and the variety of cultural, hospitality and sporting offerings we have. I think we have been successful in doing that.
“Secondly, we wanted to make sure the world knows about our wonderful golf course. Al Hamra is now truly a championship golf course. We hope to build up on this.
“The initial feedback has been nothing short of extraordinary and we’re already looking forward to delivering an even stronger event in 2017. With the experiences of this year under our belts, we are intent on engaging our industry partners to ensure Ras Al Khaimah delivers an emirate-wide festival of golf in 2017.”
Mattar said he is open to the idea of inviting a marquee player in the future to ramp up the interest further.
“Now that the word is out, we have already started receiving proposals about various things we can do next year. Yes, inviting a star name is a possibility and we will definitely be looking into that,” he added.
Mattar also thanked the number of sponsors who joined hands with the RAKTDA to make the tournament a success. This included Al Hamra Golf Club, RAK Rock, Stevin Rock, RAK Chamber, BMW and Rivoli as event sponsors, and Waldorf Astoria, Voss Water, Wicked, icflix and Nike Golf as event partners.
The Frenchman dropped a shot on the ninth but was otherwise flawless at Al Hamra Golf Club as he moved one shot clear of his nearest rivals and put himself in contention for a first European Challenge Tour title.
It has been an outstanding maiden season in professional golf for the 21 year-old, featuring three runner-up finishes and three further top fives on the Road to Oman, and he knows a victory would be a fitting way to prepare for European Tour life next year.
“It would be the perfect way to finish the year,” said the current rankings No.10. “It could be very interesting, if I won this week, to have a chance next week to win the Grand Final too.
“Let’s see what happens this week first, I’m just going to do my best and have fun. If we think about objectives, of course, I want to win, but it’s not the first objective which is just to play my best every hole, and for the moment I’ve made a good start.
“I just want to continue like this and stay patient – I thought too much about the win in Kazakhstan so this week I’ll try to go shot by shot and just do my best.
“This is my first time here and we’re really lucky with this weather. The course is quite young I think but the design is very fun to play because you can make a lot of birdies but there’s strategy involved and you have to be patient too.
“You have to be aggressive round here too, which is my natural game too – it suits me perfectly because I don’t have to change my style, I like that.
“It’s a really fun place to play, and I played really well, I liked the course, so that’s two really good rounds to start this event and we will now have to see how the weekend goes.”
Behind Langasque are Johan Edfors, who birdied five of his final six holes to get to ten under par alongside Garrick Porteous and overnight co-leader Pontus Widegren.
One shot further back is a large group of players including Pep Angles, who made nine birdies on his way to a course record 64, and Jordan Smith, who is bidding to regain his No.1 rank.
Alexander Knappe took the top spot for the first time last week but the German missed the cut in the northernmost of the United Arab Emirates, which fell at two under par, with 70 players – including 16 year-old amateur Rayhan Thomas – qualifying for the final 36 holes.