In 2023, we will mark the tenth anniversary of the Challenge Tour’s first visit to the Middle East with two events in the United Arab Emirates on the Road to Mallorca.
The Challenge Tour first visited the region in 2013 and we have enjoyed numerous successful stints in the UAE, including the culmination of our 2018 season when the Challenge Tour Grand Final was held at Al Hamra Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah.
These two new events in 2023 have been made possible by the long-term partnership struck between the DP World Tour and the Emirates Golf Federation, which is aimed at developing golf in the United Arab Emirates until at least 2031.
The DP World Tour has shown a commitment to help enhance the EGF’s grassroots and player performance programmes and that is why, for both the two Challenge Tour events in the region, 30 spots will be allocated to the Emirates Golf Federation to help create playing opportunities and provide a pathway for Emirati golfers.
The Challenge Tour, which was founded in 1989, has a long and successful history of providing a route for players to reach the pinnacle of the game. In our 33-year existence, we have staged events in over 50 countries and provided playing opportunities to allow the very best young talent to flourish and make a name for themselves.
One example of that is Adrian Meronk, a UAE resident, who became the first Polish player to win on a major golf tour when he triumphed in Portugal on the Challenge Tour in 2019 and has since become a two-time winner on the DP World Tour.
At the time of writing this column, there have been 542 wins by 202 former Challenge Tour players on the DP World Tour, a number which increased by 25 in the 2022 season with our alumni accounting for more than half of the winners.
We are dedicated to providing our members with the very best opportunities for them to grow and prepare themselves for the rigours of the DP World Tour, and that is why I am incredibly proud of our 2023 schedule which we announced last month.
The 2023 Road to Mallorca season includes 29 events across 18 countries and boasts the biggest prize fund in the Challenge Tour’s history at €8,200,000. We rely on our long-standing relationships with other tours, promoters and national federations to sculpt our schedule year-on-year and that is shown by the number of established tournaments that have featured on the Challenge Tour.
For the fourth year in a row, we will begin our season in South Africa. Since our first visit there in 2020, we have built a good working relationship with the Sunshine Tour, with whom we co- sanction our events in South Africa, and the partnership brings benefits to members of both tours through providing opportunities not only for our members, but also for the Sunshine Tour’s.
This is highlighted perfectly by Oliver Bekker in 2021 and Deon Germishuys in 2022; both players were Sunshine Tour members with no status on the Challenge Tour but, through their excellent play, managed to earn a place in the top 20 on the Road to Mallorca Rankings and a DP World Tour card for the following season. It is our hope that, in time, we will witness the same outcome for Emirati golfers through our burgeoning relationship with the Emirates Golf Federation.
We have a run of 20 tournaments in 22 weeks from May to October, which will provide playing opportunities for all ranked members, before the Rolex Challenge Tour Grand Final supported by The R&A ends our season in November.
The top 20 on the Road to Mallorca Rankings will earn DP World Tour cards for the 2024 season and while that has always been the goal for Challenge Tour members, the rewards are now even greater thanks to the support of DP World.
Players that finish in the top 20 on the Road to Mallorca Rankings will also be eligible for the DP World Tour’s Earnings Assurance Programme, guaranteeing minimum earnings of $150,000 for the 2024 season if they play in 15 or more events. The top five on the Rankings will also benefit from the John Jacobs Bursary, designed to provide security and a strong platform for their first season on the DP World Tour, part of the long-term sponsorship agreement with DP World.
Furthermore, PGA TOUR cards are now also available to the top ten players not otherwise exempt on the DP World Tour as part of the global pathway system, meaning Challenge Tour graduates have a clearly defined route to potentially go on to play on the PGA TOUR as well.
All of these things combined mean there has never been a better time to be competing on the Challenge Tour, with so many terrific opportunities awaiting the class of 2023 both in the short and long term.
I am therefore excited by the prospect of what our 2023 season has in store, and I am pleased that the people of the UAE will be able to be part of it.