Ten months after blitzing the European Challenge Tour field at the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge, England’s Jordan Smith believes the emirate’s Al Hamra Golf Club is in “perfect shape” to host the future stars of the global game when the tournament returns to the UAE’s northernmost emirate from October 25-28.
Smith, who secured his first PGA European Tour card following a memorable wire-to-wire display in Ras Al Khaimah last October, has shot to the upper echelons of the game following a stunning rookie year in Europe.
Having secured multiple top 10 finishes and a maiden Tour win at August’s Porsche European Open in Hamburg, Germany, the Englishman, 24, has risen to 69th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), currently sits in a lofty 17th in the Race to Dubai rankings, and has guaranteed his place in the season-ending, USD8 million DP World Tour Championships at Jumeirah Golf Estates, 16 – 19 November.
And despite defying the odds with seasoned displays which dispel his rookie status, Smith attributes his glorious four-day performance in Ras Al Khaimah last winter as the precursor to this year’s meteoric rise to global prominence.
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“I’d had a very strong Challenge Tour season last year but winning in Ras Al Khaimah was the icing on the cake,” said Smith, who is in the emirate preparing for the finale of the European playing season.
“Performing so consistently with so much on the line was a huge confidence boost and I’ve been fortunate enough to carry that form into my rookie season on the European Tour. Everything is going well but there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think how important my Ras Al Khaimah win was in getting me to where I am today. I’m only really at the start of my golf career – a bit like Ras Al Khaimah – and it’s going to be a long journey but that particular junction was a crucial point in my progression.”
With the world’s up-and-coming golf stars due to tee-off in the second Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in six weeks’ time, Smith, who cannot defend his title having graduated to the European Tour ranks, believes Al Hamra Golf Club will prove a stern test for this year’s crop of emerging European Challenge Tour superstars.
“The Al Hamra course is in very good condition; you would never guess we’re at the tail-end of a scorching summer season in Ras Al Khaimah. It will be in perfect shape by the time the guys touch down. If you can keep the ball straight off the tee and stay away from the lagoons, the course can be relatively straight-forward, but with so much at stake in the season’s penultimate tournament it will definitely test the field – I have no doubts about that.”
The ringing endorsement of the verdant Al Hamra course is music to the ears of Andrew Matthews, Head of the Golf Club: “It’s fantastic to have Jordan back here playing the course ahead of this year’s tournament. We’ve had the opportunity to run a few changes we’re planning past him – things like pin placements, tee positions and areas of rough – and he was very responsive to the work being overseen by the organisation team and greenkeepers.”
With a 105-strong roster of leading European Challenge Tour talents mixed with a sprinkling of local qualifiers and sponsors’ invites vying for glory at Al Hamra Golf Club, Haitham Mattar, CEO of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority, which organises the Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge, believes golf fans across the UAE are in for an exciting four days of drama.
“It’s a great coup for Ras Al Khaimah to have Jordan back as we home in on welcoming the rising stars of European golf back next month,” said Mattar. “As Jordan’s outstanding season proves, the European Challenge Tour remains a fertile breeding ground for nurturing talents that regularly progress to become household names in the professional game. I’m sure this year’s Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge will once again shine the spotlight on the next generation of future stars.”
The Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge has attracted a marquee line-up of sponsors for its second edition including Emirates Airline, the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Al Hamra Group and Al Hamra Golf Club. For more information on the Ras Al Khaimah 2017 Golf Challenge and The Road to Oman 2017 visit www.europeantour.com/challengetour.