Ryder Cup golfer Rafael Cabrera Bello attended a special dinner at the Waldorf Astoria on Monday night in celebration of the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge’s return later this month.
Last year marked the first time that the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge appeared on the European Challenge Tour’s calendar, with Jordan Smith winning the event at Al Hamra Golf Club.
The Englishman has since gone from strength to strength, finishing in the top 10 at the PGA Championship earlier this year and clinching the Porsche European Open.
And Cabrera Bello, a mainstay on the European Tour since 2009, believes more gems are set to be unearthed in Ras Al Khaimah this year.
“What I’ve heard from friends who play in the Challenge Tour, they love the event in Ras Al Khaimah – and it introduced a very good winner (in Smith),” said Cabrera Bello, who is a JA Resorts and Hotels ambassador.
“I have a good relationship with the Challenge Tour director (Alain De Soultrait) and he said the biggest improvement on the tour he is how the courses are prepared.
“They are playing on better courses more often which is a big difference from when I played. I think because of this the success ratio for the players who get the European Tour card is much improved.”
The tournament, held this month between October 25-28, is a key part of the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority’s (RAKTDA) drive to introduce more attractions to an increasingly popular emirate with tourists.
According to RAKTDA CEO Haitham Mattar, Ras Al Khaimah has become a can’t miss destination for golfers alongside Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“The fact that we have two understated golf courses between Al Hamra’s natural lagoon setting, and the Tower Links, gives us a great advantage for us to position our destination on the map for golf tourism,” he said.
“We are seeing fantastic growth year on year from golfers since Al Hamra has become a championship course.
“Monthly it is well above 35 per cent and that is predominately from players who go to Abu Dhabi and Dubai and are now including Ras Al Khaimah in their tour.”
The Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge will be hotly-contested as it is the last chance for the top 45 golfers on the European Challenge tour to make it into the following week’s NBO Golf Classic Grand final in Oman.
“It’s a very important week for the Challenge Tour. It’s life-changing for the golfers, and the great example is last year’s Ras Al Khaimah champion Jordan Smith, who now stands 71st in the official world golf rankings,” said Nick Tarratt, director of European Tour International Dubai office..
“He’s a great example of how careers and lives have changed, and Ras Al Khaimah is part of that journey and we look forward to the event in year two being bigger and better – and who knows where it will take us.”
Rising star Jordan Smith returned to where it all began at Al Hamra Golf Club, having won the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 that catapulted him into the spotlight.
That victory on the Challenge Tour helped him finish first in the Order of Merit and secure a European Tour card for 2017 – of which he has already taken full advantage.
The 24-year-old won the Porsche European Open in July before making an impact on a worldwide stage with a top-10 finish at the PGA Championship.
Smith recently retraced his steps at Al Hamra Golf Club, catching up with Sport360 reporter Chris Bailey above on the impact of that success and a remarkable year to date.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) September 15, 2017
With this year’s Ras Al Khaimah Golf challenge is just around the corner – starting on October 25 – a new star could well be born by the end of this month.
The prospect of seeing a home-grown player from the UAE making it on the world golfing stage is edging closer to becoming a reality thanks to the ongoing success of the DP World-funded Emirates Golf Federation (EGF) Arabic Schools Initiative.
The innovative programme, which is also supported by the European Tour, launched last year with the first phase seeing the EGF — with the assistance of Golf DXB — visiting six UAE schools to give ‘Golf Taster’ sessions to over 3,000 students.
Fifty children were also treated to a visit to the European Tour’s season-ending tournament, the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, where they had a ‘behind the scenes’ tour to get a taste of what is involved in running a world-class golf tournament.
During the introductory phase, 100 children took up memberships at golf clubs across the region. The astounding influx of new young golfers prompted the EGF to create four Foundation Squads at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Emirates Golf Club, The Track Meydan, Sharjah Golf & Shooting Club and Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club.
In addition to their ongoing development at their respective clubs, the Foundation Squads, made up of 40 children, along with the UAE National Squad, are to have access once a month to one of the very best training facilities in the world with coaching sessions at the European Tour Performance Institute (ETPI) at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
The ETPI at the famous Dubai venue is one of only two such facilities in the world and home to some of the most cutting-edge equipment available as well as a team of world-class coaches who will help the EGF achieve the goal of bringing the children in the Foundation Squads onto the UAE National Squad within 12 to 18 months.
Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, DP World Group Chairman and CEO, said: “We are delighted to be able to support this major initiative and to play a part in the development of our UAE National Golf Teams.
“Supporting grassroots golf is central to our involvement in the sport and something we care very passionately about. The growth of the game in the region is extremely important to us and giving local golfers access to facilities such as the world-renowned European Tour Performance Institute at Jumeirah Golf Estates offers them the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”
Adel Zarouni Emirates Golf Federation Vice Chairman said: “With the support of DP World, the EGF has been able to see rapid growth at the grassroots level which is pushing the National Junior Development Program.
“With a successful EGF Arabic Schools Golf Initiative over the last year and a half, the EGF is excited to reach the next step of our program by creating the UAE Foundation Squads.
“Again, with the passion and support from DP World devoted to the Foundation Squads, we are excited to see our young boys and girls enhance their golf game by using the European Tour Performance Institute at Jumeirah Golf Estates for elite training and player analysis.”
Nick Tarratt Director European Tour International Dubai Office, added: “The European Tour is delighted to be joining DP World in supporting this forward-thinking initiative which is a shining example of joined up thinking between stakeholders in the local golf community.
“Last year’s introductory phase was an overwhelming success, resulting in a huge influx of local school children taking up the sport of golf.
“It will be fascinating to see how the youngsters who have joined the Foundation Squads progress in the next phase of their development under the guidance of the EGF, the local golf clubs, and the wonderful coaches at the European Tour Performance Institute.
“Children are the key to the future of the game at all levels and initiatives like this are crucial in ensuring golf’s continued growth here in the UAE and around the world.”