David Horsey (Getty Images)
After 32 tournaments played across four continents, the 2008 European Challenge Tour season reaches a thrilling climax with this week’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final.
At San Domenico Golf in Puglia, Italy, the leading 45 players in the Challenge Tour Rankings will compete for the €280,000 prize fund on offer, with the top 20 earning their cards for The 2009 European Tour International Schedule.
With The Race to Dubai starting with the lucrative HSBC Champions tournament next month, when the winner of the Challenge Tour will tee up with some of the greatest names in world golf, the incentives to join the elite on The European Tour have never been greater.
But whilst the rewards are huge, the margins between success and failure can be miniscule. Just ask Belgium’s Nicolas Vanhootegem, who finished 22nd in the Rankings in 2006 and 21st last year, when Norway’s Jan-Are Larsen pipped him to 20th place by just €1,377. Nobody said life, and indeed golf, was fair.
Scotland’s Andrew McArthur can also claim to have been an unlucky ‘loser’, having finished 22nd in last year’s Rankings and 27th the year before.
The Scot will have the chance to make it third time lucky when he tees up with his 44 fellow hopefuls at the testing 7,031 yard, par 71 course in southern Italy.
At the other end of the spectrum, Taco Remkes of the Netherlands and current Number One David Horsey of England – who finished first and tied fourth respectively at last week’s Margara Diehl-Ako Platinum Open – have no such worries, having long since secured their European Tour cards for next season.
Instead, the duo will bid to follow in the footsteps of France’s Michael Lorenzo-Vera, who claimed last year’s Apulia San Domenico Grand Final title and with it the honour of finishing the season as the Challenge Tour Number One.
Horsey and Remkes are currently separated by one place and just €840 in the Rankings, with former Number One Gary Lockerbie of England a further €989 behind Remkes in third.
Thus, should any of the trio lay claim to the €48,000 first prize, the title of 2008 Challenge Tour winner and a place at the forthcoming HSBC Champions would be theirs to cherish.
Other players with aspirations of joining them on the top tier include Liam Bond of Wales, Finland’s Roope Kakko and Sweden’s Christian Nilsson, all of whom performed creditably at Margara Golf Club last week.
Bond and Kakko ensured their participation at San Domenico Golf with their respective tied fourth and second place finishes, with Bond grabbing the 45th and last available place, whilst Nilsson jumped into the top 15 in the Rankings after finishing third.
When Saturday comes, all three will be hoping to lift the trophy and so join the likes of double Major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland in The Race to Dubai. It’s what dreams are made of.