The biggest pay cheque for a regular Challenge Tour event and a probable place on The 2009 European Tour International Schedule are the incentives for the winner of this week’s Kazakhstan Open.
With €430,000 on offer, the Kazakhstan Open offers the winner the chance to compete amongst the game’s elite.
Ireland’s Stephen Browne, Wales’ Mark Pilkington and Sweden’s Leif Westerberg – the champions in 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively – all graduated to The European Tour on the back of their victories at Nurtau Golf Club, in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Browne and Pilkington, currently 115th and 206th respectively in the Challenge Tour Rankings, return to the scene of their triumphs this year knowing they will probably need a repeat of their victories if they are to harbour realistic hopes of a return to The European Tour.
Browne’s fellow Irishman Gareth Maybin is more securely placed, having leapt to first place in the Rankings on the back of his victory at last week’s inaugural Qingdao Golf Open.
Speaking after his maiden win, Maybin said: “From tee to green, I played as well as I’ve ever played this week. My concentration and mental strength were also spot on. I was so focused on what I was doing, I didn’t really allow myself to think about winning until the 18th tee. I’m so delighted to have shot 19 under par, and ecstatic to have this trophy on my lap. The winner’s cheque will also come in handy, because I recently bought my first house in Belfast.
“But the most important thing is that I’ve guaranteed my European Tour card for next season, and I’m just itching to get out there now. You want to test yourself against the best in whatever sport you play. Damien McGrane and Darren Clarke have also won in China this year, so it’s obviously a happy hunting ground for the Irish.”
Other notable names in the field include England’s Gary Wolstenhome, who recently made the decision, at the age of 48, to join the professional ranks.
Wolstenhome, British Amateur Champion on two occasions, has represented his country more than 200 times, and is perhaps the only man in the field at Almaty who can claim to have beaten Tiger Woods in a singles match – a feat he achieved at the Walker Cup in 1995.
At the other end of the age spectrum is another recent convert to the paid ranks, Northern Ireland’s Gareth Shaw.
In his fledgling professional career the teenage sensation already has two top ten Challenge Tour finishes to his name, and is yet to finish outside the top 50 in five appearances – a record he will seek to maintain when he tees up at Nurtau Golf Club.
But arguably the real star of the show in Almaty is the immaculate course itself. Set against the backdrop of the stunning Tien Shien mountain range, the 7,319 yards, par 72 course is by common consensus the most visually arresting and indeed challenging course on the Schedule, and is considered capable of hosting future European Tour events.