The Challenge Tour will ring down the curtain on another successful season this week with the Grand Final in Bordeaux.
The 2001season, which kicked off with the Tusker Kenya Open in Nairobi in March, reaches its final destination at Golf du Medoc, the magnificent French layout west of Bordeaux, which has been the venue of several recent European Tour events.
The Grand Final represents three contests in one. There is the tournament itself with a prize fund of 200,000 euro (£124,351), the race for the Number One spot on the Rankings, and the battle to secure the 15 cards for The European Tour next season. The field is limited to the leading 45 players on the Rankings, who will play 72 holes with no halfway cut.
The tussle for top spot looks a straight fight between England's Mark Foster and Jamie Donaldson of Wales, with Foster just 2,730 euro ahead of his rival. Both have won twice this year and both are keen to finish Number One.
But with 34,000 euro (£21,139) available to the winner, those players from Sebastien Delagrange of France in third, to Denmark's Mads Vibe-Hastrup in tenth, have a mathematical chance of finishing top. Delagrange, another double winner, is 21,499 euro behind Foster, but just 11,009 euro separates third and tenth places.
Should Foster finish second, Donaldson would need to win to deprive the former Walker Cup man of first place. But if Foster were third, second place would be good enough to promote the Welshman to pole position. There are so many permutations while the fight for the top 15 places is even more unpredictable. The leading ten players have probably secured their cards, but the other five spots are still in dispute.
However, several Challenge Tour players, in particular Donaldson and seventh-placed Swede Peter Hanson, are currently ranked in both the Volvo Order of Merit and the Challenge Tour Rankings in positions giving them exemption for next year’s European Tour. Should they finish within the top 116 on the former, then the distribution of cards would extend to 17th place on the Challenge Tour.
The history of the Grand Final has thrown up some improbable scenarios where players have climbed from outside the top 15 to claim a card. In Portugal in 1997, when torrential rain reduced the Grand Final to 54 holes, France’s Nicolas Joakimides was declared the winner and leapt from 26th to sixth to secure his card in dramatic fashion.
When the Grand Final visited Cuba in 1999, Stephen Scahill from New Zealand won the tournament and leapt from outside the top 15 into fifth place on the Rankings. And a year ago, again in Cuba, Scotland’s Andrew Raitt finished joint second in the tournament to jump from 27th to 14th and claim a card. At the same time, someone gets relegated from a top 15 spot and the same could happen again with several players from 16th position and below ready to seize their chance of promotion.
Those waiting to pounce include Stuart Little (16th), fellow Englishman Andrew Sherborne and Andre Bossert from Switzerland (17th and 18th), England’s Benn Barham and Scott Drummond from Scotland (19th and 20th), yet another Englishman, Iain Pyman (21st), and Sweden’s Mattias Eliasson (22nd).
Over the past eight months the Challenge Tour has visited 16 different countries for 28 tournaments. The Grand Final will be the 29th and Golf du Medoc will provide a fitting finale to what has been another successful season.
The Chateaux Course, which could be described as an inland links, will host the tournament. Like the fine wines that come from the local chateaux, it is of a fine vintage and has gained a reputation down the years as a superb test. Designed by American Bill Coore, it is basically flat but with water hazards and ditches that can trip up the unsuspecting golfer.
It was the venue for the Open Novotel Perrier Pairs from 1996 to 1998 and the following year was the stage for the French Open won by Retief Goosen
So everything is set for what promises to be a fitting finale to the Challenge Tour year. The Grand Final won't be just an end-of-season soirée, hopefully in the sunshine. It is a serious climax with everything to play for.