The inaugural US$300,000 National Bank of Oman (NBO) Golf Classic, to be played at Almouj Golf from October 24-27, is the right tournament for a country like Oman, according to Alain de Soultrait, director of the European Challenge Tour. In an exclusive interview with Muscat Daily during a brief visit to the sultanate, Soultrait said, “For a developing golf nation like Oman, the NBO Classic is the right tournament.
The event will raise the profile of the game in the country.” The Frenchman, who has been closely associated with the Tour since its inception in 1989, said, “The tournament will give an opportunity for local kids to watch the future stars of the world. Maybe, we will have a future Tiger Woods playing here.” During his visit, Soultrait, who was accompanied by Nick Tarratt, director, The European Tour–International, Dubai Office, held a series of meetings with NBO and Almouj Golf officials. The Challenge Tour boss said, “I am really impressed by the dedication of NBO officials towards making the event a success, which is so essential when any such tournament is launched in a country.
“The Almouj course is a tough and challenging course. The facilities are good. I hope the NBO Classic will evoke interest among non-golfers and help in promoting the game in the country. The event is sure to put Oman on the world golf map and will also boost the country's tourism.” With the NBO Classic scheduled to be the last tournament before the Tour reaches its traditional climax - the Challenge Tour Grand Final - Soultrait said, “The tournament will attract the Tour's top Order of Merit players. The success of any tournament is based on the quality of the players and a good course.
The course, designed by Greg Norman, is beautiful and is certain to provide a great backdrop. With the top players eager to have a good build-up ahead of the Grand Final, a high-quality field of players is expected.” Soultrait said the Challenge Tour will make every effort to include the best domestic amateur golfers to compete with the top players. As the main partner of the tournament, NBO can distribute ten invitations to the players of its choice. Recently, it distributed the first two invites to the top two finishers of the GCC Golf Championships that concluded at Almouj.
“NBO can also hand a couple of invites to players from other Challenge Tours on a reciprocal basis, which will help the best players from Oman to take part in other Challenge Tour events,” he said. Soultrait said the Challenge Tour has had a proven track record over the past 25 years and players who have come out of it have gone on to become the world's best. “The Challenge Tour is like the final year of a university. The top 15-20 players get promoted to the European Tour, which is like getting a good job. And, it's a damn good job with the big money offered on the European Tour.”
In 2013, the Challenge Tour will host 25 tournaments in 17 nations with two new destinations - Oman and Ukraine. The Challenge Tour began its journey this year with the opener in Gujarat, India, followed by Kenya last month. Prior to making its debut in Oman, the Challenge Tour will make stopovers in the Czech Republic, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, France, Scotland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Finland and Norway.
Soultrait, who was part of the core group that launched this Tour, said, “When we formed the European Challenge Tour, we had one mission - to provide, on top of The European Tour Qualifying School, an additional opportunity to join the European Tour for up and coming professionals.
Our ambition was to provide the best possible opportunity for young professionals to experience all aspects of Tour life. Soon, we became a breeding ground for the stars of the future. We have had good results over the past two decades.” Soultrait added, “The camaraderie among the players is another characteristic of the Challenge Tour, which has evolved naturally. Most of the players are young guys with shared interests. The Challenge Tour is tough and the level of competition is high, so this camaraderie helps the players relax and enjoy themselves.”