The 2011 European Challenge Tour season gets underway with this week’s inaugural Gujarat Kensville Challenge, an event which three-time European Tour champion Jeev Milkha Singh hopes will further increase the growing popularity of golf in India.
Singh co-designed the 7,250 yards (6,331 metres), par 72 parkland course at Kensville Golf Club near Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat, which will host the first Challenge Tour event to be played on Indian soil.
Singh, who will play in the Wednesday Pro-Am, believes the event will aid the development of the 54 home-grown players who will compete against 60 Challenge Tour Members for the €200,000 prize fund.
He said: “If we had so many world-class tournaments in India during my early career, India would have had a Major Champion by now. But I promise that day is not far away, especially after what Arjun Atwal has achieved. This event will undoubtedly play a great role in enhancing the popularity of the sport.
“This is an excellent development for Indian golf, and our golfers will benefit greatly. Kensville is just the kind of course young Indian golfers need to get used to if they hope to do well at the highest level. It’s a long windy course with lots of water hazards, which makes it a really stern test.”
Former European Tour Member Gaganjeet Bhullar will spearhead the home contingent, all of whom will be bidding to become the first Indian to win on the Challenge Tour.
Bhullar’s best performance on The European Tour came at The 2009 Barclays Singapore Open, where he finished in a tie for 14th place alongside South African Ernie Els, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, England’s Justin Rose and American Phil Mickelson.
Amongst the players vying to prevent Bhullar from taking the title are England’s Charlie Ford and Italian Alessandro Tadini, who both tasted success last season on the Challenge Tour but were ultimately unable to graduate to The European Tour, after finishing 22nd and 25th respectively in the final Rankings.
Two of Ford’s compatriots, namely Andrew Butterfield and Gary Lockerbie, have returned to Challenge Tour duty and are on recovery missions in India, having last season lost the European Tour cards they earned through the Rankings in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, the 114-man field also features a number of talented youngsters just making their way in the professional game.
Tommy Fleetwood made quite an impression on the Challenge Tour last season, finishing runner-up twice in just six appearances, including as an amateur at the English Challenge.
His fellow Englishman Chris Lloyd, who at 18 is a year younger than Fleetwood, narrowly missed out on successfully navigating his way through all three stages of the 2010 Qualifying School, with a fifth round of 77 at the Final Stage effectively putting paid to his hopes of securing a European Tour card.
Instead, Lloyd will now embark on his debut Challenge Tour campaign at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, which is being co-sanctioned with the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI).
The event, which will be played for at least the next three years, sees the Challenge Tour fall into line with The European Tour, which first staged an event in India in February 2008, when home hero SSP Chowrasia won the EMAAR-MGF Indian Masters at Delhi Golf Club.
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