Tuesday, 26 February 2002
The European Challenge Tour swings back into action this week for its 14th season, with an overwhelming feeling of confidence that a new generation of future stars will have emerged by the time the campaign ends in the last week of October.

Since the end of the 2001 season, several of the leading 16 players who graduated from the 2001 Challenge Tour Rankings have already made a substantial mark on The European Tour in South Africa, Australia and Asia, as have some who earned cards at the Qualifying School.

The Challenge Tour kicks off in the familiar surroundings of Nairobi with the long-established Sameer Kenya Open. It is the oldest title on the Challenge Tour schedule, dating back to 1967 and has always been played at the Muthaiga Golf Club apart from 1968 when it moved to the nearby Karen course.

In former times, the Kenya Open formed an integral part of the Safari Tour, but it is now firmly established as the starting point for the Challenge Tour campaign, offering as it does warm weather and ideal playing conditions.

Such conditions will not be lost on those Challenge Tour Members who have already tasted action on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. Many took the opportunity to travel to the Southern Hemisphere to get their year underway and the experience should give them a head start in Kenya and in the following week's Stanbic Zambia Open.

One such globetrotter was Scott Drummond, who could well be among the Challenge Tour front runners after coming so close to earning his card last year. The young Scot was disappointed to finish 18th in the Rankings but after securing three top ten finishes, including runner-up to Retief Goosen in the Dimension Data Pro-Am at Sun City, he believes his South African experience will prove a major benefit over the next two weeks.

"I feel the six weeks I spent in South Africa will benefit me over the next fortnight," he said. "Conditions in Kenya and Zambia will be similar to what we've been playing in and I think that should give the guys like myself a head start to the season.

"Finishing second to Retief and following that with two more top ten placings has been great for my confidence although I felt exhausted after the Tour Championship on the Sunshine Tour. But after a week at home I'll be in good shape for Kenya."

This week's field contains six of last season's tournament winners, Benn Barham, Drummond, Kenneth Ferrie, Greig Hutcheon, Sam Little and Andrew Sherborne.

Sherborne, who won the Open Golf Montecchia - PGA Triveneta in Italy last April, had one hand on a card to return to The European Tour but eventually finished behind Hutcheon and Drummond in 19th place on the Rankings. He got last season off to a flier in Kenya only to lose a play-off to South Africa's Ashley Roestoff. He will be aiming to go one better this time especially as Roestoff is not defending the title.

However, several former winners of the Kenya crown such as André Bossert, David Jones, Craig Maltman and Mike Miller will be in action as will six recent Walker Cup stars in Paddy Gribben, Richard McEvoy, Steven O'Hara, David Patrick, Graham Rankin and Graeme Storm.

Gribben and Rankin are seasoned Challenge Tour campaigners, Rankin having lost his card last year after a season on the European Tour.

Also in action will be Ireland's Stephen Browne, the reigning European Amateur champion, who turned professional after his triumph in Sweden, and Sandeep Grewal, eighth in the dunhill championship in South Africa last month.

As usual, there will be a strong entry of Springboks, including Hennie Otto eager to make it three South African victories in a row following Trevor Immelman in 2000 and Roestoff last year, while the multi-national 156 strong field also contains 21 Kenyans including three amateurs.

There is a 122,481 euro (£75,000) purse on offer with 20,413 euro (£12,500) going to the winner, while the tournament has a new title sponsor. Sameer, an investment company, has succeeded Tusker, part of Kenya Breweries.

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