Progress of Mena golfers in shade at UAE’s crossroad for Asian and European Tours

As the Asian Tour debuts with its season finale in Dubai, promises made on a bright future for the region's players remain just that, writes Gary Meenaghan.
File picture of Mohamed Juma Buamaim, centre, with European Tour officials, chief executive George O’Grady, left, and board of directors chairman David Williams, in Dubai. Warren Little / Getty Images
File picture of Mohamed Juma Buamaim, centre, with European Tour officials, chief executive George O’Grady, left, and board of directors chairman David Williams, in Dubai. Warren Little / Getty Images

DUBAI // Is someone actively holding back the development of Middle East and North African golfers?

The chief executive of Golf in Dubai suggested exactly that yesterday when asked why the embryonic Mena Tour is not yet able to provide world rankings points to its players.

The Mena Tour, launched by Mohamed Juma Buamaim, the vice chairman and chief executive of Golf in Dubai, is into its fourth full season but endures an uneasy relationship with the sport’s global sanctioning bodies, such as the International Federation of PGA Golf Tours.

The Official World Golf Rankings recognise 14 international tours, ranging from the European and PGA tours to the Korean Golf Tour and southern Africa’s Sunshine Tour.

The Mena Tour, however, continues to be overlooked. Buamaim, speaking at the launch of the inaugural Dubai Open, called the fight for recognition an “ongoing battle”.

“It’s a subject I am talking about every day,” he said.

“We need world ranking points, not only for the players, but also any tour the size of the Mena Tour needs financial support. The logistics are so big and expensive.

Without the sanctioning from the international body, it is becoming more and more difficult to get the sponsors.” If players on the Mena Tour received ranking points for playing across the region, they would become eligible for potential Olympic Games participation.

It would also mean European Tour events in the region, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, would likely be co-sanctioned, opening up the field to more Mena Tour invitees.

“We have done whatever we can to try to gain the sanctioning,” Buamaim said. “Somebody does not understand what the Tour is all about.

“Maybe they think it is a small tour in Europe and want us to feed into another smaller tour, but that doesn’t work.

“We are a region and we should be given the full sanction as ourselves.”

This season, the Mena Tour involves nine events across three countries with six held in the UAE, two in Morocco and one in Oman. All nine are 54-hole tournaments with prize money ranging from US$25,000 (Dh92,000) to $75,000 and include slots for professionals and amateurs.

“When we started four years ago, we were told that after three years we would get it. It didn’t happen. Instead, they introduced many different conditions we have to deal with,” Buamaim said. “I feel there is somebody trying to stop it. There is no other explanation.

“Otherwise, why would they introduce all these new criteria and difficulties for us? I don’t understand. It is too big a region not to have its own tour.”

In 1995 and 1997, Dubai Creek Golf Club featured on the now-defunct Asian PGA Tour, but when sponsors dried up, the event slipped off the calendar.

In 2004, Asian professionals formed a new body named the Asian Tour and the emirate has not been involved since, opting to focus solely on its higher-profile European Tour event, the Desert Classic, and, later, the Race to Dubai.

This weekend’s Dubai Open at the Els Club is the the first Asian Tour event to be held in the emirate, and 24 Mena Tour players have been invited to take part.

With the top 60 players in Asia’s Order of Merit attaining world ranking points, the continued involvement of Mena players is a driving factor in Golf in Dubai’s decision to embrace the Asian Tour.

Faycal Serghini, a Moroccan on the Mena Tour, said being afforded the opportunity to play at an Asian Tour event this weekend was a step towards realising his ambition. “Being able to play in an Asian Tour event like this one is a great way to get ranking points and to qualify for the Olympics,” he said.

“Playing in the Olympics is the dream of every Moroccan golfer, so the best thing would be if we start getting world rankings points on the Mena Tour.”

Buamaim, however, said that while the Mena Tour also has three invites to the Desert Classic, players are not going to make substantial rankings points from one or two tournaments. “That is why we need to be fully sanctioned,” he said.

“In order to encourage the young players in the region, we need to give them more. If we are ever hoping to make the Olympics one day, how are we going to get there if we don’t have rankings?”

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM


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