By Kent Gray
The European Tour’s traditional early-season Desert Swing has become Desert Swings with Muscat one of three new events added to the tour’s 2018 schedule.
The $1.75 million NBO Golf Classic will be played Feb.15-18 at Almouj Golf (pictured) amid The Wave Muscat development the week proceeding the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha GC (Feb.22-25).
The Doha tournament was traditionally sandwiched between the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and $3 million Omega Dubai Desert Classic but the two UAE events, as has been widely reported, are now scheduled back-to-back from Jan. 18-21 and 25-28 respectively.
For the past four seasons the NBO Golf Classic has been a European Challenge Tour event, the last two the secondary circuit’s season-ender and climax to the “Race to Oman” series. There is yet no word on a replacement decider or season-long “Race” for the Challenge Tour although it raises the prospect of Ras Al Khaimah, currently the circuit’s penultimate event, stepping up.
Muscat joins the Philippines Golf Championship (March 15-18) and the Belgian Knockout (May 17-20) as new events on the 2018 European Tour which will visit 30 countries and again include eight Rolex Series event, each with a minimum prize fund of US$7million. Morocco’s The Trophee Hassan II in Rabat, which enjoys close links with the MENA Tour, is scheduled for April 19-22.
With Abu Dhabi and Dubai proceeded by the Jan. 12-14 EurAsia Cup (an important Ryder Cup rehearsal) and leading into the Maybank Championship (Feb. 1-4), also in Malaysia, elite fields are again assured. It will be tougher for Muscat and Doha to attract the same calibre of players however as they are sandwiched between the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, a popular addition to the schedule last season, and the $10 million WGC-Mexico Championship which makes a second early season sojourn to the Middle East unlikely for higher ranked players.
The 2018 Race to Dubai will again climax at Jumeriah Golf Estates where the $8 million DP World Tour Championship will celebrate its 10th anniversary from Nov. 15-18.
Keith Waters, the European Tour’s Chief Operating Officer, said: “We are delighted to be able to announce three new events as part of the 2018 European Tour schedule, providing vital playing opportunities for our members.
“It also combines diversity, visiting 30 different countries on the Race to Dubai, and innovation, through varied formats such as the new Belgian Knockout and GolfSixes alongside more traditional strokeplay events, including the eight Rolex Series tournaments.”