Tuesday, 07 March 2000
The European Challenge Tour resumes this week when it makes its annual safari to Africa for the Tusker Kenya Open.

This popular tournament provides an ideal opportunity for those Europe-based players to get some sunshine on their backs while it also provides an annual renunion for many whose association with the event goes back a long way.

Some played when it formed an important segment of the Safari Tour, which visited several African countries during the European winter. Many of those events have disappeared; others have been absorbed into other tours. But the Kenya Open continues to flourish thanks to Kenya Open Golf Limited, the members of the Muthaiga Club and the long-standing sponsorship of Kenya Breweries under its leading brand name of Tusker.

The Kenya Open is the oldest tournament on the European Challenge Tour schedule. It dates back to 1967 when the late Guy Wolstenholme won the title while it roll of honour contains other illustrious names such as Severiano Ballesteros (1978), Brian Barnes (1981) and Ian Woosnam (1986).

Five previous champions will be in action when the Championship gets underway at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi, its regular home, on Thursday. Scotland's Garry Harvey lifted the trophy in 1985, Ulsterman David Jones, now a regular on the European Seniors Tour, won in 1989, another Scot, Craig Maltman, was victorious in 1993, James Lee from Wales in 1995, while a third Scot, Mike Miller, finished in the top four years ago.

Last year, Dutchman Maarten Lafeber came out on top with a closing round of 64 for a 19-under-par aggregate of 265. That left him three strokes clear of Sweden's Erik Andersson and five ahead of Sammy Daniels from South Africa, who finished with a blistering 61, which sliced three strokes off the course record.

Daniels is not in the 156-strong field this time but South Africa is well represented by the likes of Justin Hobday and Trevor Immelman. But many eyes will be on young Swede, Eric Carlberg, who got his season off to a flier by winning the Challenge de España in Spain three weeks ago, the opening event on this year's European Challenge Tour schedule.

Carlberg, who missed his Tour card by a shot in the First Cuba Grand Final in October then missed out at the Qualifying School a month later, tops the rankings following his victory and aims to stay there. He knows that another win or a string of top finishes will keep him on course to finish in the top 15 at the end of the season and secure that card for next year.

But he faces stern opposition at Muthaiga, not least from the likes of José Manuel Lara of Spain and fellow Swedes Klas Eriksson and Henrik Stenson, three others to miss their cards narrowly in 1999. Then there are former European Tour regulars Steven Bottomley, Carl Watts and Stuart Cage, all of whom have lost their cards.

Also chasing a slice of the £70,000 prize money - up £5,000 from last year - are three members of the 1999 triumphant Walker Cup team, who turned professional after their thrilling 15-9 victory over the United States at Nairn. Yorkshire's Simon Dyson and Scots Lorne Kelly and Graham Rankin will be looking to get their new careers off to a solid start.

Once again, the tournament has attracted an international field with players from 22 nations teeing-off on Thursday. That includes over 20 Kenyans, among them Jacob Okello, a member of the host club, who came close to giving Kenya its first victory in the event two years ago only to lose a play-off to Ricardo Gonzalez of Argentina.

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