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.”
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