MENA Golf Tour Patron Darren Clarke on Sunday announced the 2016 season schedule that expands its footprint in nine countries across three continents highlighted by a ground-breaking tie-up with the Sunshine Tour.
Starting with the inaugural Qualifying School at Almenara Golf Club in the Spanish resort Sotogrande in the Cadiz province from February 13 to 16, the tour features a total of 21 tournaments, making maiden voyages to Spain, South Africa, Egypt and Kuwait.
The introduction of the Q-School, conforming to the guidelines set forth by the game’s apex body, will pave the way for the MENA Golf Tour to become eligible for Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) status, hopefully in a month or two.
Underlining the growing strength of the tour in the region and beyond, the MENA Golf Tour (MGT) has entered into a new partnership with the Sunshine Tour which will see its five top professionals on the Order of Merit earn full playing privileges on the South Africa-based tour.
MGT players, ranked between six and 15, will be exempt into the final stage of the Sunshine Tour’s Qualifying School in a move aimed at creating meaningful playing opportunities for players knocking on the doors of stardom.
Also, three MGT tournaments — all to be played in Johannesburg in June —will be co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour. The field for each event will consist of 60 MGT players and 60 from the Sunshine and the Big Easy Tours.
According to the terms of the agreement, the MENA Golf Tour will receive 20 invitations for each event on the Big Easy Tour event. In turn, the MENA Golf Tour will reserve 10 spots for each of its event for the Sunshine Tour and Big Easy Tour players.
“We are delighted to forge this new mutually-beneficial partnership with the Sunshine Tour which marks a new dawn for players on the MENA Golf Tour,” said Clarke, who is also the European Ryder Cup captain.
“A lot of fresh talent coming up through the ranks over the last few years, but the opportunities to play are limited. This exchange programme with the South African tour will provide another platform for young professionals to develop and showcase their skills on a global basis.
“This MENA Golf Tour is the fastest growing professional golf tour in the world. With the help of the Sunshine Tour and, indeed, all the events that we have had already, I think this is going to go in one direction.”
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, chairman of the MENA Golf Tour, said: “We are delighted to announce a very strong schedule, which is almost double in size in comparison to last year when we had 11 events.
“The perceptible rise in number of events is an apt reflection of the healthy growth of the tour over years and we look forward to strengthening our bonds with new countries, especially with the Sunshine Tour, who have come forward and supported the tour.
“I am confident that we are headed for truly exciting times ahead. The journey that began in 2011 has picked up the momentum, which is a good sign, but we need more backing from the corporate world to put things on cruise control.”
Grant Wilson, COO of the Sunshine Tour, said: “We are very excited with the new partnership with the MENA Golf Tour which will further stimulate the growth of golf.
“The tour in South Africa has grown leaps and bounds over the years and, as a founding member of the International Federation of PGA Tours, we see it as our responsibility to grow the tour in the region and form alliances around the world which can benefit our members and grow the game of golf.
“We look forward to welcoming the tour in a city which is ideally placed to capitalise on its unique position as a diverse and high quality golfing destination.
“It’s quite pleasing to note that South African players have strung together impressive streaks on the MENA Golf Tour, especially Thriston Lawrence who won the 2015 Order of Merit title. Golf is just one of the many reasons that people visit the UAE and South African and this new tie-up will further strengthen the bonds between the two countries.”
Meanwhile, the top 60 players from the 54-hole Q-School in Spain will be eligible for Category-7 membership of the MENA Golf Tour for the 2016. The leading 12 players will also share a prize fund of $13,000 with the winner walking away with a cheque for $3,000 while the top 15 will receive complimentary Mena Golf Tour membership for 2016.
Added incentives for MENA Golf Tour members include multiple European Tour starts, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Hassan II Trophy and the Maybank Championship Malaysia in addition to exemptions into the Final Stage of the Asian Tour Q-School for the leading three professionals.
An initiative of the Shaikh Maktoum Golf Foundation, the MENA Golf Tour was created in 2011 with the aim of developing golf in the region. It is affiliated to R&A, the worldwide golf governing body based in the home of golf, St Andrews, and the Arab Golf Federation.