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February 7, 2016
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: Welcome. Firstly, I would like to welcome and Mr. Park with us today. He's been very supportive, even played golf with us last season. Mr. Grant Wilson from South Africa, the Sunshine Tour, and Zane Scotland, one of our ambassadors, and someone who has been with us from 2011, been supporting of the Tour and introduced a lot of kids to the Tour, as well, in those few years.
Today's conference is about signing an agreement with the Sunshine Tour for the next three years starting from this year. They have been very supportive of our tour over the years and they have been working with us in getting the Official World Ranking, which we are hoping to get very soon. These three events will be played in June and will be in Johannesburg. There are certain benefits to our players on the Tour, but I'll leave that to Grant to talk about.
Our news is that we are going with 20 events this year. We have a Q-School in Spain in Sotogrande in the 13th of this month. We already have a hundred players from 23 countries, including one from the UAE which I have never heard of before, so that's a good sign. He could be an amateur but at least there is an interest.
We will be offering 16 cards for the guys in the school, and the rest will be from our exempt categories. We will be in 20 different countries this year. Our growth has gone very, very big, from four in 2011 to 20, I think it's a great progression. And all that happened because of the support of people on the ground in UAE and also people from outside. And people like Zane, actually, he was very instrumental, when we first started, he really pushed the Tour in Europe and he got a lot of players, and of course it's just gone from one to the other.
Our Patron has been instrumental recently with pushing the Tour and getting places like Spain and places like that to be interested. So I'll let the Patron, Mr. Clarke, say something.
DARREN CLARKE: Thank you, Mo. I think as you can all see from the facts and figures, this is another major boost and a major step forward for the MENA Tour. I think with the joint venture with the Sunshine Tour, I think it's another huge step to attract more players to come and participate on the MENA Tour.
The Sunshine Tour is where I started, Chubby sent me down there in my first formative years to play. I learned a lot playing down in South Africa. They have got some seriously good golf courses down there. It's a wonderful place to go and play, and so in addition to all of the other country that is we have got, I think the guys will really enjoy going to South Africa, as well.
With the Tour School next week in Sotogrande, where they are going to give 60 cards, it shows that the Tour is progressing. And in order to have the Q-School, you need a lot of people and with over an excess of 100 people entering for Q-School shows how popular the MENA Tour is becoming, with the likes of Zane promoting the MENA Tour, it's a wonderful place, an opportunity where you can come along to play. So much so that we have got people from 23 different countries entering the Tour school, that's massive. To generate that much interest from the first four events in 2011 to now 20 events next year, that's a major, major step forward. I think all that credit is down to Mo and Spenny over there and all the people here pushing for the MENA Tour, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I think World Rankings will follow on, and as soon as that happens, then it's going to push the Tour even more.
As I have said before, this is the fastest growing professional golf tour in the world, and with these exciting times ahead, with the help of the Sunshine Tour and indeed all the events that we've had already, I think this is only going to go in one direction.
I certainly am very proud to be Patron of the Tour and it's great from a personal point of view to see the Tour growing in the manner in which it is.
GRANT WILSON: Thank you, Mo, thank you, Darren, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I think before I start, I think Darren touched on a very important point is the Sunshine Tour, we see ourselves as a graduation tour, and we are proud of the fact that more major champions have used our tour as a learning curve and go onto do bigger things, as Darren alluded to.
To the point where when Tom Lehman won The Open Championship, stood with the Claret Jug and said, "I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for the Sunshine Tour." So we see our responsibility to our members to create opportunity for them to graduate on to the world stage.
The Tour in South Africa has grown leaps and bounds over the years and as a founding member of the International Federation of PGA TOURs, we see it as our responsibility to grow the Tour in the region and form alliances around the world where can benefit our members and grow the game of golf.
Last year we had our first tri-sanctioned event in Mauritius with The Asian Tour and European Tour. We were the first tour in the world to co-sanction an event with Europe, and as Mo said, we have built up a really nice and mutually beneficial relationship with the MENA Tour, with David and Mo over the last few years, and Darren is always a very good friend of South Africa.
So it makes sense to create opportunities for both MENA Tour players and South African players that are really starting their careers and climbing on the conveyor belt of professional golf.
We are really excited about this development. I think as Darren was saying, South Africa presents an opportunity to play in a great climate on great golf courses but above all, the competitive environment on the Sunshine Tour is fierce. And often players say to me, it is so fierce down there, if you can win on the Sunshine Tour, you can win anywhere in the world.
I think it's important to focus that this is going to be part of our development tour, the Big Easy Tour, which Ernie lent his name to, which is very exciting for players of colour, for our development players down in South Africa and it creates opportunities, as well, for skills transfer opportunities for executives and for staff of MENA Tour and the Sunshine Tour to really share information and learn from each other.
As Mo said, we are going to have three co-sanctioned events in June, which is wonderful. I think we have extended the relationship where we have actively assisted in working behind the scenes to get the MENA Tour Official World Golf Ranking points, and I've been involved in those meetings as a member of the technical committee.
So it's been some work, and now that MENA have fulfilled the criteria of the Official World Golf Rankings, I think it's imminent. What we have done out of this relationship is I think the Order of Merit, the MENA Tour, the top five players on the Order of Merit will get full membership of the Sunshine Tour, which is quite exciting.
And then further down, those that come from six to 15 will get into the final stage of Q-School and that's another development of ours. We are now going to a multi-stage Q-School because of the interest and what we are trying to achieve.
So all in all, as I said to David and Mo this morning, is this is the first step in a direction. We may not be perfect on that one, but I think there is a sincere desire to unlock this opportunity for both our memberships and to move this forward. And we are delighted and very grateful to Mo and David for working together with us. And I think it will be great for professional golf and great for golf in this region and in South Africa.
ZANE SCOTLAND: Yeah, this has been a big part of the MENA Golf Tour since the beginning when you just had the four events. It's been a fun journey to be a part of seeing it all grow and how it's all progressed and it seems like each season, more good news comes out.
As a player, I've played in a lot of different tours around the world, and it's been a great experience playing here this week at the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic. But I really enjoy playing the MENA Tour, and I think it's just a testament to how it's all growing.
I think it's great that golf is really taking off in this part of the world. I enjoy playing golf here, about five or six years ago and was really hoping for something to happen and Mo brought it here. Yeah, it's a big day to join a big tour like the Sunshine Tour. From where it started, four events to now, it's really good.
Hopefully it keeps going, and I think golf is growing -- we have like the top of the game here, we have these guys out here like Darren, Rory, these guys. But as a next generation, and there's also -- as guys like Matt Fitzpatrick have come through, they have come on, been good amateurs, gone bang, straight in, gone to the top of the game, there's also other routes. Guys maybe you wouldn't have heard of, but maybe take a different route, maybe through the MENA Tour. It would be nice to have Major winners come through the MENA Tour one day.
If this is where it's going, it's gone from four to 20 events and all sorts of exemptions in these five years, where can it be in another five and another five. As a player, it's brilliant to be a part of it to be honest. We all want to play at the top level but if you're not at the top level, for me this is the best place to play. It's the most fun, probably the best courses of the development tours that I've played on. Yeah, it's really good.
Q. For the last four or five years, it has been almost a determined effort from golf in DUBAi as an organisation to drive this thing formed. How much you suspect port are you now getting as you go into this year with 21 tournaments, including the Qualifying School? It's a massive leap but can you just talk to us about the support that you are getting now from others? Is it coming on or is it still --
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: Others? Who is the others?
Q. Well, there could be, like, say the Sunshine Tour has come with some support, but Morocco --
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: I think the relationship with the Sunshine Tour has been better than everybody. Everyone is trying their best, but I felt we worked much closer with the Sunshine Tour and that's why we are announcing this today.
Support from golf federation in the Arab world, I'm sorry, but it's zero. It doesn't exist, because I don't think they actually understand what it means. They just don't understand what it means. I have been very good and sort of careful over the past years not to say anything. But its reached a stage where thereby they are actually a hindrance, rather than somebody who wants to help and make this happen.
But the Sunshine Tour, they work with us, especially with the World Rankings, because he happens to be on the committee, which helps and they are pushing it. That's why always co-sanctioning helped in that, as well. So the Sunshine Tour is the one. European Tour, always been there, of course, but not as.
Q. And your association with The Asian Tour, The Challenge Tour playing the Qualifying School and all those things --
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: We have had that for a long time and they are still there. The talks about the Asian Tour, we don't know what's going to be next.
Q. Darren, you've been coming here for many years, when you first came here, could you see golf developing the way it has in Dubai?
DARREN CLARKE: When I first came to Dubai, a long time ago now, but I don't know, to give you an honest answer, I don't know if anybody could have foreseen how Dubai was going to grow into the city that it is, never mind golf.
The first time I arrived here, 1991, we stayed at the Intercontinental at the airport, there was one building between there and here, a long, long time ago. And then, the Hard Rock, they built the Hard Rock down there, and that was: What are they doing, ruining the view with that tall skyscraper, and it wasn't even that tall. And you look at now, look at some of the pictures we see going on with global with media and stuff.
But the whole area has developed so much. You have got facilities such here, such as the Montgomerie, the Els; you have so many courses that offer the facilities for kids to play in. And when you combine the weather with fantastic facilities, you're always going to have an opportunity for growth. That's what the MENA Tour has done. They have presented opportunities for people like Zane, other young kids coming through. It gives opportunities.
And that's what I think, as competitive as professional golf is these days, opportunities are limited. And for the MENA Tour to do this and in conjunction with the Sunshine Tour, it's more opportunities for kids to come through. It's difficult to get on a tour; it's difficult to play, and the only way you improve is through tournaments.
The MENA Tour are providing opportunities for young kids to play. Would that have been the case when I first came here in 1990 to where we are today, I don't know. If you look back to 2010, never mind then, with four events, to get it to where it's got to now is a huge boost in the right place. More young kids playing, more opportunities, will lead to better young players coming through.
Q. In the year you've been the Patron, how has the perception changed with people being interested in the game and asking about it?
DARREN CLARKE: I think the Tour school says it all. Obviously Tour School is needed for World Ranking points, but to have the opportunity -- you have 23 different countries represented in the Tour School. That's huge. People from everywhere coming to take on the Q-School, you know, there's Andorra, there's India, there's France, New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Czech Republic, Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Chile, Kenya, Turkey, Lebanon, Germany, Ireland, UAE -- so globally, global interest is here now.
And I think, you know, that's again, for the MENA Tour and with the Sunshine Tour that's a lot of audience that you're appealing to and that's a lot of opportunities for young players around the world. I think Zane would probably be better to ask you how the MENA Tour is perceived because he plays more tournaments than I do. I still come and participate whenever I can, but I think it's reputation is growing and growing, especially with 20 events and stuff.
If the Tour wasn't going the right direction, getting better, then we wouldn't be sitting here with the South African Tour. It's a measure of how far it's going forward and the question is, how farther going to push it, how far it's going to keep on going. I hope that Spenny and Mo and everybody else on the ground here pushes it and makes it bigger and better, because that's what they have been doing, exponentially at the moment.
Q. What has the perception been like?
ZANE SCOTLAND: It's been a little tricky at the beginning, because there's obviously quite a few tours popping up. But now, especially the last couple of years, I think it's, as you can tell what Darren said about the Q-School, he has a lot more trust in it and people like Darren who is getting involved, it's just getting known. It's come up so quickly, I think people now, maybe they didn't necessarily know what they could get if they did work and now they are seeing, getting into final stage of Q-School, now exemption onto the Sunshine Tour, getting here for the classic here, I mean, there's a lot of interest.
I mean, when I sit at home, I can go on social media and I have guys message me all day long. I'm just trying to go through my feed. I've got guys messaging me about what's that like, where do you stay; I feel like I get that every week now, guys ask me, which is good. It's getting really well received.
At the beginning, it was a matter of, I had to tell people about it. So I would go off and play different tournaments, wherever it was, back in Europe or whatever, maybe kind of mention it to a few young guys; oh, you're thinking about doing this. Like the guy that won the first Order of Merit, Jake Shepherd, I kind of talked him into coming here a little bit. I said, you should come out. I think he just missed out at Q-School, maybe you should keep that going.
That's really been a big boost for him, he won the Order of Merit, he's played in the Classic, and he's trying to make a career out of golf now. Had he not come here, maybe that wouldn't have happened. Whereas now, to get guys come out on the putting green, asking me questions; I'm trying to play -- it's really nice. Good to be a part of. It is well received. I think all the small tours, it's quite -- this is the best one. There's a few exemptions on a couple other tours, but this is the best one.
Q. Can I just ask you something about the schedule, a few changes obviously with 21 of the tournaments to be fitted in, but I think the one which really looks major is the fact that you are going to have your Tour Championship in Egypt now. And you have got a couple of events in Egypt. Can you just talk about the change of the schedule?
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: Well, Khaled Abu Taleb, the owner of these golf courses is part of the MENA Tour board, if you like, my board of trustees. He had these golf courses for awhile but recently he decided to build a hotel, as well, and he wanted to help the Tour, so he's going to have tournaments and then the final there.
Now, the final normally is in Al Ain, but they are doing their golf course, so can't have it there anyway, and he wants it anyway, so why not.
Q. And anything about the prize money that you have decided? Is it going to be a 50,000 thousand minimum?
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: You see, we were actually misled when it comes to the prize fund. We were told to be able to get World Ranking, you need to have a 50,000 minimum, and we have been doing 50,000. And all of a sudden, certain tours got it and they are doing it at 30,000.
So we will have certain events at less than 50,000, because at the end of the day, these young guys, they want to play more and have more opportunity. And we also need to get sponsorship from, a, the golf course and maybe other parties involved. This is the right level, but there will be more of the 50,000 than the 30,000.
Q. And Grant, Tristan won the Order of Merit over here last year, and what has been the general perception of guys who are coming up on your tour, the Big Easy Tour, about the MENA Tour?
GRANT WILSON: I think guys who are coming through Q-School and are at the beginning of their careers are looking for opportunities to compete. You know, to graduate onto The European Tour is one way of doing it through our co-sanctioned events, but these young kids are looking for opportunities to play.
I can tell you now, that if we offered 40 weeks of $30,000 events in South Africa, the entire membership would be ecstatic because that's what they want to do, they want to compete. And often players say to me, with our poor currency, with are we having these co-sanctioned events when we could play so many more tournaments for less prize money.
But the perception in South Africa is that since we came out of isolation, we are now a global player. Our professionals travel globally. We do very well, and often we consider ourselves to box above our weight in terms of world professional golf.
So there is an attitude now of as the young kids come on, more of an international perspective and I think the feeling is, as there was a broader approach from their perspective. And this region is not too far away, it's eight hours away from Johannesburg. It's accessible and this part of the globe is kind of the center of the universe in terms of where you want to get to. One of the finest airports in the world, so it's easy to get in communication and it's a first-world city.
I think the climate here and the golf courses are fantastic, so the perception as I understand it from the players in talking to them is really positive, and I think when this news breaks later today in South Africa, they will be very excited about the opportunity.
Q. How far away are we from World Ranking points?
GRANT WILSON: We have been discussing -- let me just step back a bit. If you looked at Official World Golf Rankings, we found at the committee level that there were a lot of smaller, non-structured tours that were being awarded Official World Rankings and certainly two and a half, three years ago, we tabled a motion that there had to be some basic criteria.
In order to be awarded Official World Golf Rankings, there had to be some criteria. Obviously one of those is an official Q-School. The second is having a formalised relationship with a member federation tour, and a few others; established membership body, and all those good things that most tours offer.
So we went through that process. We meet twice a year, once at Augusta and the other, the second time of the year at The Open Championship, and the MENA Tour in terms of Official World Golf Rankings has been on the agenda for two years. We kind of got to a situation last year in July where we met with David and Mo, and there were just two outstanding issues, and that was the Tour school and that was the formalisation of a relationship with a Federation Tour, and we've come through those.
With the announcement today of us formalising this relationship, a letter will go to the World Rankings today to confirm that, which they have asked for from us, that will happen. And then it will go through due process in terms of the technical committee, circulated to the technical committee, and they will then make a recommendation to the main board. And that could take a couple of weeks; it could take a month, I don't know, depends on -- but hopefully come -- I would say that this will all be sorted out within the next month or two. That's my opinion. Q-School is now a given, which they have accepted.
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: So that's good news.
Q. So in time for this season?
MOHAMED JUMA BUAMAIM: Hopefully in time for the first event.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports