Joy Chakravarty/MENA Tour
Englishman David Langley is the current Journey to Jordan money leader.
By Kent Gray
The on-again, off-again MENA Tour is on again, this time in an even more condensed ‘bubble’ that will float between Jordan, Oman and the UAE if coronavirus travel restrictions allow.
MENA Tour by Arena commissioner David Spencer wrote to the regional development tour’s membership on Tuesday, outlining a reworked 2021 schedule that “is fair, beneficial and cost-effective for all of our Members.”
On December 31, Spencer announced plans to play the five outstanding events from the stalled 2020 season at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan in March-April before an 11-event 2021 scheduled from early October.
COVID curveballs put pay to that but Spencer has this time pencilled in an October 1 start date for the five 2020 events, all of which will be hosted in a “golf bubble” at Ayla Resort, the MENA Tour’s official destination partner. A 2021 season of 10-11 events will then be squeezed into the period from November 1 to December 20.
Spencer said the tour hoped to play 2021 season events in Jordan, Muscat and in the UAE, with Al Ain, Al Zorah, Al Hamra and Tower Links likely venues in the Emirates. However, all will be dependent on COVID travel restrictions at the time with the tour to be guided by the vaccine regulations in each country with an almost play the lie mentality. The beauty of remaining in a bubble – now common place on the European and PGA Tours – is that all 15-16 events could feasibly be played at Ayla G.C. if need be, as challenging as that would be for the players.
In his email to players, Spencer said the MENA Tour would confirm the plan by June 15 this year “at the latest” to allow players to plan accordingly. With the majority of the developmental circuit’s players U.K. based, they will first require British Government permission to leave the U.K., will then need to quarantine for 14-days in a “green listed” Middle East destination – Dubai being the obvious option – before being permitted entry into Jordan, all the while hoping the green status of their quarantine base isn’t changed by the Jordanian authorities during the fortnight.
Spencer doesn’t expect any issues filling the maximum 132-player fields despite all the unknowns.
“We have been absolutely inundated with requests,” said Spencer who confirmed many of those requests had come from players from other competition starved tours.
He told Golf Digest Middle East that the “bulk” of events would retain $75,000 purses and any “slight” reduction in prize funds would be “directly attributable to any increase in player costs in relation to regulatory health costs.”
Spencer said the reworked schedule was drawn up to limit the financial outlay required by cash-strapped mini-tour players.
“I can’t imagine anyone of us will come out of this pandemic better off so we have tried to limit travel and accommodation costs,” Spencer said.
The flipside of that is playing events back to back to back at the same venue.
“We’ll start with a practice day, play 54-hole events, have a day off, play another 54-hole event, have a day off, and so on and so on. The bulk of events will be strokeplay but we’re also looking at the possibility of mixing it up with different formats like matchplay for example.
“Fortunately Ayla is such a unique destination with a great hotel now. We’ll have access to the beach club, swimming pools, night par 3 golf and ocean sports. The players will be able to do things in a bubble they can’t do elsewhere with such ease.”
Despite the ongoing challenges presented by the coronavirus, Spencer is confident the MENA Tour have found a solution that will give pro and elite amateurs some certainty in an uncertain time. He said the tour had retained all its sponsors and would be “announcing new partners shortly”. Golf Digest Middle East understands plans are also well advanced for an exciting 2022 season.
“There is absolutely no doubt that we are all living in a new world and I do not see 2021 being too much different from 2020. I do think that 2021 will be a year of recalibration and 2022 promises to be relatively normal, positive and calm. I am extremely confident that the plan that is set out above is fully achievable.
“That being said, if there are further changes they will be done from pure necessity. We will make sure that THE 2021 PLAN is fully confirmed to you all by June 15th, 2021 at the latest. This gives everyone 3+ months notice before we recommence play.
“We look forward to seeing you all again later this year. In the meantime please #StaySafe!!!”