Muscat: The pro-am at Almouj Golf in Muscat on Tuesday was the signal for the curtain to be raised on this year’s NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, the European Challenge Tour’s season-ender which is taking place from Wednesday to Saturday.
There’s a chunky prize fund of €400,000 up for grabs, not to mention a nice €60,000 Bonus Pool to be split between the top three on the season-long ‘Road to Oman Rankings’ at the close of play. But the most tantalising aspect of this week’s event is that the top 16 ranked players after the tournament finishes will be promoted to play on next season’s European Tour. Those players will follow in the footsteps of some of the golf’s biggest stars who cut their teeth on the Challenge Tour before going on to win some of golf’s biggest prizes: This year’s Open Champion Henrik Stenson, who is currently leading the Race to Dubai having already secured the season-rankings title in 2013; Martin Kaymer, 2010 US PGA Champion and 2014 US Open Champion, who has enjoyed time as both World and European Number One; Justin Rose, 2013 US Open Champion and 2007 European Number One; Louis Oosthuizen, 2010 Open Champion; Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters Champion.
These are just some of the players who have benefited from learning their trade on the Challenge Tour before shining on the biggest stages. The top ten players on the Road to Oman Rankings have all already secured their European Tour privileges ahead of this week’s season-ending showdown in Muscat and the front runners were full of praise for the preparation they have benefitted from during their time on the second tier.
Jordan Smith (Rankings leader): “The Challenge Tour prepares you well for the European Tour. We have done lots of travelling outside of Europe in the last month or so which will definitely benefit me next year when I’m teeing up alongside the European Tour stars all over the world.”
Alexander Bjork (seventh in the Road to Oman): “I started playing the Challenge Tour in 2014 so this is my third year and it’s improved every year. The standard of the players is now much higher than when I first joined. Last year the cuts were between par and two-under, whereas this year it’s between like two-under and six-under so that is a huge difference. There have been many different winners this year which proves that the entire field is strong so you have to fight hard to get into that top 16 at the end of the season.
“I can’t wait to go onto the European Tour. I feel like I’ve done my time on the Challenge Tour and am ready to step up to the next level. If you can be top 16 on the Challenge Tour, you can be top 100 on the European Tour. I definitely think this is the best way to prepare for life on the European Tour because of the professionalism of the tournaments you play throughout the season.”
Dylan Frittelli (eighth in Road to Oman): “It’s been a strong year on the Challenge Tour with not many multiple winners. I think this is going to be one of the better graduation classes leading into the European Tour next year. There are some real stars in this group.”
Romain Langasque (ninth in Road to Oman): “You need around 15 under to 20 under to win an event on the Challenge Tour so that just shows how good the standard of the field is. You learn how to fight for a win on this Tour so I think it’s the best way to prepare you for the European Tour.”
Aaron Rai, at 17th, and 2014 NBO Golf Classic winner Max Orrin, at 20th, are right on the cusp of the graduation places and a good performance in Muscat could be life changing.
“It’s been a very good season competing on the Road to Oman,” said Rai. “The competition is fierce with some great players coming through this year. The courses have been amazing and it’s been a real learning experience. This is the best format to prepare you for the European Tour because of the amount of travel you do all around the world and the style of courses that you play. The level of competition is getting better year by year.”
Orrin added: “The Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman is by far the best way to prepare yourself for the European Tour. It’s a long season all around Europe, Asia and Africa so it pretty much tests every part of your game both physically and mentally. If you do get a card you have certainly earnt it through the Challenge Tour.”
The opening round of the 2016 NBO Golf Classic Grand Final gets underway at Almouj Golf, Muscat on Wednesday at 8am.