As the next batch of up-and-coming and experienced stars descend on the UAE for the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge, one man who knows the course at Al Hamra Golf Club better than most is Andrew Matthews.
As head of golf at the club, he’s been putting the final touches to the stunning 18-hole Peter Harradine-designed course that will see a mix of some of the sport’s best players do battle over the next four days.
Among the 105 golfers to tee off tomorrow include emerging global talents, MENA Tour hopefuls, the UAE’s best professional and amateur players as well as multiple European Tour winners – Tano Goya, Sweden’s Mikael Lundberg and 2011 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship winner Michael Hoey.
They will all be aiming to follow in the footsteps of Jordan Smith, who won last year and recorded his first triumph on the big stage at the Porsche European Tour in July.
Considering it’s the penultimate event of the European Challenge Tour ahead of next weekend’s finale in Oman, the European Tour veterans have their work cut out with a host of in-form Challenge Tour players seeking to break into the continent’s elite field next season.
Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen finds himself at the top of the rankings with a healthy 40,000-plus point lead but the 27-year-old faces a stern task in getting his second win of the season with the top 10 players competing in the Emirate.
Matthews feels the strong field will produce a closely-fought competition on the greens but their cause will not be helped with some adjustments, forcing players to rethink their strategies on some holes.
“The players will notice this year that what is different to last is that the rough is thicker,” he said.
“We have thickened up the rough on the request of the European Tour themselves to try and make it a little bit tougher.
“We have also added a new tee box on hole 16. We have added 28 yards of length, which really brings the bunker out on the left hand side this year.
“Whereas last year, the players were able to knock it over the bunker and into a very short shot into the greens, this year it will be a little more tricky.”
Marquee group 🎪
The 3 highest-ranked players in the #RAKGolfChallenge field are playing together
— Challenge Tour (@Challenge_Tour) October 24, 2017
Matthews gave a strong hint when suggesting anyone who wants to go far would need to sharpen up on their tee-shots.
“The driver is a fairly wide space for the guys but if they do get in the rough, they will struggle,” he said.
“The longer hitters are going to benefit and really should be working on their driver shots.
“The greens are generous and reasonably flat. As long as they hit those fairways, they have a good chance to score well. It is the drivers they should be working on this week.”
While those changes to the course will certainly make things interesting for the spectators, Matthews expects the golfers to raise their game over the four rounds.
“It will be even more interesting this week,” he said.
“It’s the penultimate event and everyone’s trying to get into the final event in Oman.
“Ultimately, they are trying to get into the top 15 in the Order of Merit to win a spot on the European Tour. Our event sits nicely for that and I think it will be a good fight for the spots.”
Matthews feels American Chase Koepka, younger brother of US Open champion Brooks, who is sixth in the rankings, will be the player to watch.
Matthews said: “I think he is a key one. He’s a big hitter and reasonably straight and I think he’s the one to look out for.”
There will be no shortage of entertainment options when the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge tees off at Al Hamra Golf Club on Wednesday.
Running until Saturday, the free admission tournament will play host to a number of future stars of the game.
Off the field there’s plenty to look forward to as well, with the Fan Village including a lively Oktoberfest Garden.
It will also feature bouncy castles, arts and crafts, face painting and sand art, as well as food trucks and live music entertainment.
The Oktoberfest Garden features chefs from Al Hamra’s Bay Sports Bar, who will be grilling German sausages and other mouth-watering dishes in the BBQ, plus three separate beverage stands.
On Friday, once the last putt is holed, the action switches to Jebel Jais where there will be an open-air classical music concert, dubbed the UAE’s best musical performance. Vivaldianno, City of Mirrors – a 3D spectacular light and music show featuring a live Czech orchestra, is also on the schedule.
Tickets for the one off performance start at Dh300 and are available through Virgin Tickets and Platinum List.
There will also be the opportunity for spectators and visitors to spend time in the other restaurants at Al Hamra Village — Ladies Night is on Thursday in the Bay Sports Bar, while there is a fish and chips night in Marina Muse, followed by a Boardwalk Brunch in Marina Muse on Friday.
Benoy Kurien, general manager at Al Hamra Real Estate, believes there’s plenty of reasons to visit, even if you’re not a fan of golf.
He said: “We want to introduce golf into a multicultural environment, bringing it to the wider community and making the event one for all ages to enjoy, with an array of activities for the kids and plenty to keep the adults entertained too.
“This is all part of promoting golf and our fantastic golf course to members of the local community, but we would also like to welcome everybody into the Al Hamra Village where they can experience all of our facilities, such as our Sailing Club and other entertainment venues and restaurants.”
Andrew Matthews, head of golf at Al Hamra Golf Club, added: “We have a lot of things happening in the last three days of the championship. Hopefully it will be a good turnout and people in the local area will come out and support the event.”
The Fan Village will be open from 16:00 to 22:00 on Thursday; 13:30 to 22:00 on Friday and 16:00 to 22:00 on Saturday.
Get into the swing of things as Duplays’ Social Monday Golf League returns for its fifth edition with registration still open until Friday. Running from October 23 to December 11 at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, the league is open to players of all levels, whether you have aspirations of becoming the next Dustin Johnson or just want to try out the sport.
Players will tee off with others of similar ability and club residents will ensure fair handicaps are in place to make sure it’s competitive until the final week. They will also offer advice and tips each week so that you can improve your game every week. On the first week of the event, you will be given a Duplays Golf Par 3 handicap, which will be adjusted each round to create a level playing field for everyone.
The five best scores from the eight weeks will count towards the final standings, meaning even if you miss a couple of weeks, your league position will not be affected. As the UAE’s biggest sport and social club with more than 5,000 members, Duplays certainly know a thing or two about organizing leagues and tournaments.
Their portfolio includes basketball, netball, football and badminton and it’s no surprise that golf is hugely popular. “Duplays’ Golf Leagues have been running almost from the day Duplays began and we’re celebrating 10 years this year,” said Stefan Topalovic, marketing manager at Duplays.
“It has been a great platform for networking between like minded and active members of Dubai’s sports community. On a given night, we would get between 50 to 60 golfers at Emirates Golf Club competing and socialising.
“We strongly believe Duplays’ Golf Leagues provides a unique golf experience. We connect golf enthusiasts in Dubai to find other golfers to play with and provide a platform and competition element for the players looking for that type of golf experience. Being part of the largest sport community in Dubai is an important element too.”
The league will be played every Monday between 20:15 and 22:00, and Topalovic insists it will be worthwhile signing up for the social tournament at the home of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and Omega Dubai Ladies Masters. “It will be a great golf competition and it’s a great platform to meet new players and an opportunity to make new friends,” he said.
WHAT: Duplays Social Monday Golf League
WHERE: Emirates Golf Club, Dubai
WHEN: Mondays from October 23 to December 11
CONTACT: For more information or to register, visit https://duplaysdubai.playpass.com. Registration closes on Friday.