The European Challenge Tour launches its 11th season on Thursday with the Tusker Kenya Open in Nairobi and with every promise that the final campaign of the 20th Century will be the best yet.
The Tusker Kenya Open has, in recent seasons, formed the second leg of the African swing after the curtain-raising event in the Ivory Coast. But a visit to West Africa is not on this season’s schedule which leaves Kenya to welcome a field of 156 players to do battle over the long-established Muthaiga Golf Club course a short distance from the centre of the city.
The Challenge Tour again offers a long, tough season of 27 tournaments in 14 different countries across Europe and Africa with over two million euro available in prize money. A slice of that, 91,000 euro, is available at Muthaiga with almost 15,000 euro going to the winner on Sunday.
Kenya Open winners form an impressive Roll on Honour and this year’s champion will join some of golf’s big names who have claimed the title and gone on to even greater things. The inaugural tournament was in 1967 when the late Guy Wolstenholme triumphed at Muthaiga which has hosted every Kenya Open apart from 1968 when Maurice Bembridge, now a member of the European Seniors Tour, won at Karen.
But it was back to Muthaiga in 1969 when Bembridge came out on top again and it has stayed at the delightful tree-lined venue ever since. Several other current Senior Tour members can also count the Kenya title in their portfolio, namely Irishman Liam Higgins (1977), Brian Waites (1980), Brian Barnes (1981), José Maria Cañizares (1984) and Christy O’Connor Jnr (1990).
Other winners include Seve Ballesteros (1978), Ken Brown (1983), Ian Woosnam (1986) and Carl Mason (1987).
In those days the Kenya Open formed part of the Safari Tour when European professionals looked forward to their annual visits to Africa in search of sunshine, relaxation, and the opportunity to forge friendships which have stood the test of time.
Many of those tournaments, which formed the Safari circuit, have long disappeared while others have been absorbed into other tours. But the Kenya Open is still flourishing, thanks to Kenya Open Golf Limited, the members of the Muthaiga club, and Kenya Breweries, whose association with the tournament goes back some 25 years and who will continue their sponsorship of this year’s event under their leading brand name of Tusker.
Peter Wanjama, the KBL General Manager, Marketing, said: "It is an honour for Kenya Breweries to be the lead sponsor in the 1999 Tusker Kenya Open which is Kenya’s premier golfing event and to host a field of world class players for the second successive year."
On the sponsorship, Samson Kamau, Chairman of Kenya Open Golf Ltd, said: "We are delighted to have Kenya Breweries Limited again as lead sponsor of the Kenya Open Golf Championship. In fact, we have entered into a three-year contract with them as title sponsors through to the year 2001."
With that level of support the Kenya Open will continue to flourish and attract a strong field of players from all parts of the world. This year’s field includes six former champions – Garry Harvey, David Jones, James Lee, Craig Maltman, Jeremy Robinson and Mike Miller as well as 21 Kenyan golfers. It was Muthaiga’s own Jacob Okello who came close to lifting the title last year when he took Ricardo Gonzalez to extra time before losing at the third extra hole.
Okello, now a regular on the Challenge Tour, will be hoping to go one better this time as will 20 other Kenyans, while several players who lost their cards on the main tour last year – Iain Pyman, Carl Watts, Bradley Dredge, Robert Coles, Knud Storegaard, and Fredrik Henge – will be hoping to make a flying start towards regaining those privileges.
It promises to be another highly successful tournament in keeping with the history of this great event.