Challenge Tour The Gulf Club

Al Hamra G.C. to host Challenge Tour’s ‘Road to Ras Al Khaimah’ finale until 2020

By Kent Gray
The Challenge Tour’s ‘Race to Oman’ has predictably become the ‘Road to Ras Al Khaimah’ as the Middle East increasingly proves a path paved in end-of-season gold for the European Tour, to go with all that guaranteed and equally precious New Year sunshine.

As Golf Digest Middle East unveiled in November, Al Hamra Golf Club will host the climax of the European Challenge Tour season until at least 2020.

Related: Al Hamra Golf Club set to host Challenge Tour finale in 2018

The three-year deal will see the RAK Golf Challenge elevated from the penultimate event of the feeder tour for the past two seasons to the season-ending Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final, beginning this Oct.31-Nov. 3.

The $515,000 event will bring together the top-45 players in the Challenge Tour’s season long ‘Road to RAK’ standings and promises graduation to the full European Tour the following season for the top-15 ranked players on the order of merit (OOM) moneylist.  The three leading OOM finishers will also share an additional $100,000 bonus pool at the conclusion of the 72-hole Al Hamra finale.

The Road to RAK replaces the Race to Oman after the NBO Oman Golf Classic, the Challenge Tour’s season-decider from 2015-17, made a successful main tour bow in February. The Al Hamra event also sees the Challenge Tour finale return to the UAE after now closed Al Badia G.C. held the season-climax in 2013 and 2014 when Tyrrell Hatton, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and Byeong An were among the graduates.

The Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAK TDA) has bankrolled the deal and will be repaid with “Road to RAK” exposure throughout the 29-event* Challenge Tour season which opened in Kenya last month and gathers momentum at the Belt & Road Colourful Yunnan Golf Open in China this week.

Nick Tarratt, Director European Tour International, Dubai Office, with Haitham-Mattar, CEO Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority at Monday’s announcement.

“We are obviously really excited about hosting the grand final in Ras Al Khaimah,” said RAK TDA chief executive Haitham Mattar.

“Over two years ago we started discussions about creating the penultimate event from which we have seen great success based on feedback from players, hotels and also the impact on RAK economy which has been significant, especially when we look at hotel occupancy increases.

“We’ve then been very eager to look at hosting the grand final and we’ve been successful in moving it back to the UAE where it really belongs. RAK has two fantastic golf courses, Al Hamra and Tower Links, those are in my opinion two very understated golf courses.”

A 160 percent year-on-year increase in tourist numbers from the Czech Republic last year shows the how important the exposure in emerging markets is for the RAKTDA’s inbound tourism strategy.

“We’ve been working very hard in the past years to position RAK as the adventure and sports hub of the Middle East. We started off with golf obviously but we’ve got more adventure activities in the {Hajar) mountains including the longest zip line in the world [Jebel Jais Flight] which we launched back in January and has been very successful with close to 5000 riders since the opening.”

Asked if Al Hamra might eventually follow in the footsteps of Al Mouj Golf in Muscat and seek main tour status, Matta said: “It’s in the vision”.

Added European Tour Dubai Office Director Nick Tarratt: “The players have all been very complimentary about the Al Hamra golf course since first visiting in 2016 and with the new Troon Golf management team in place we look forward to seeing a golf course presented in an appropriate manner for the top players for the Challenge Tour Grand Final later in the year.”

Related: Travel Guide 2018 – Al Hamra G.C.

Confirmation of the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final at a media conference in Dubai Monday further emphasises the region’s importance to the global game.

It mirrors the DP World Tour Championship as a season decider – the DP in mid-November is the European Tour’s ‘Race to Dubai’ climax at Jumeirah Golf Estates – and is one of eight European Tour events cemented in the schedule:  Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, DP World Tour Championship (European Tour), RAK (Challenge Tour) and the Staysure Tour (formerly European Senior Tour) season opener in Sharjah.

Related: Saudi Arabia added to European Tour’s 2019 Desert Swing schedule

The Middle East also hosts Ladies European Tour (LET) events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well as the Middle East qualifier and European Grand Final for the Faldo Series, one the world’s preeminent junior circuits, in Al Ain.

The Challenge Tour touts a ‘Where Heroes are Made’ tagline and with major champions Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Brooks Koepka among its alumni, does so with some justification. Dubai-domiciled Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ryder Cup stalwart Ian Poulter are other high profile players to prosper via the Challenge Tour while 16 players in last week’s Masters field at Augusta National, including 10 who made the cut, are also graduates.

See the Challenge Tour’s 2018 schedule here

*OOM points will be awarded to any Challenge Tour players who qualify for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in June and the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie the following month.

 

Kent Gray

Kent Gray

Editor of Golf Digest Middle East. Has written about golf since 1989 and owned a suspect short game even longer.

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