Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, Jordan.
By Kent Gray
Plans to bring the MENA Tour’s cosmopolitan membership together to finish the postponed 2020 season at a single venue in a luxury, compound-style bubble are well advanced, Golf Digest Middle East has learned.
MENA Tour by Arena commissioner David Spencer has confirmed the regional developmental circuit is looking to play the five remaining events in a six-week stretch between mid-October and late November at Ayla Golf Club in Aqaba, the tour’s destination partner.
The proposal is subject to the approval of “all the necessary regulatory authorities” and any travel restrictions in place at the time but Spencer believes it will be well supported by an international cast of players desperate for playing opportunities amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Those players would be extremely well looked if the bold plan succeeds with the wider Ayla Oasis resort set to become a luxury, all necessities-covered camp for players.
“We are looking at the complete package that would leave the professionals with literally nothing else to focus on than playing golf tournaments,” Spencer said.
“We are talking about food and beverage, laundry, medical support, etc. We’d also need to look at something like a beach club, sailing or the like because we won’t be playing every day for six weeks.”
Jordan is currently in lockdown with Spencer saying the MENA Tour is “looking at a quarantine package” if the strict travel /health restrictions remained in place come October.
“We are really taking a deep dive but that’s part of our job and that’s to come up with realistic opportunities for our members. Ayla is so spectacular, we think the players will like the idea of staying in one place,” Spencer said.
“I think the days of a travelling sports circus are… a long time to come [return] for golf.”
That is a thinly veiled pointer to the challenges facing the European Tour, which has postponed or cancelled events to mid-July and given no timeline for a possible return to action despite the PGA Tour having locked in a mid-June restart. However, chief executive Keith Pelley has told his members a “radically different” European Tour could be kick-started with multiple events at one venue, much like the MENA Tour model, in what is one of a number of recovery options being considered.
The MENA Tour is believed to be the first Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR)-sanctioned circuit to suspend its season as the enormity of the pandemic was slowly becoming evident around the world, a March 5 decision for which the it tour’s leadership had “coped a lot of flak”, according to Spencer. However, the MENA Tour’s Australian commissioner was concerned players could become locked down somewhere in the Middle East if the organisation hadn’t of taken the early stance.
The tour’s ‘Journey to Jordan’ campaign was postponed after the confusingly entitled Journey to Jordan #2 Championship, won by Scotsman Ryan Lumsden, concluded on March 4. It was the second of three events scheduled to be played at Ayla, including the $100,000 Arena Tour Championship, which was due to have concluded today, April 23.
Events in Abu Dhabi, at Tower Links in Ras Al Khaimah and a Northern Emirates Open, to be jointly hosted at Al Hamra in RAK and Al Zorah in Ajman, were also locked into the schedule but now the season looks likely to be played out solely in Aqaba.
Further details of the proposed Ayla encampment, such as prize money and the outcome of season-long rewards including invites to events on bigger tours that are a huge lure to fledging young professionals, are expected to become clearer in coming weeks.
The MENA Tour has long secured spots for its best performers at European Tour events including the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic but the seismic economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic has now put the very survival of a number of tours, notably the Challenge and European Senior (Staysure) Tours, into sharp focus.
Spencer said he was indebted to the on-going support of Arena, the MENA Tour’s title sponsor, and Ayla despite their income streams being “decimated” like so many others in the sports/entertainment industry.