Eleven champions from the 2014 Challenge Tour season and rising star Matthew Fitzpatrick will headline the field in this week’s Azerbaijan Golf Challenge Open, which marks the first time a professional golf tournament has been staged in the ‘Land of Fire’.
The Challenge Tour will again underline its reputation as a pioneering Tour with a debut trip to The National Azerbaijan Golf Club, which became the country’s first golfing venue when it opened last year.
Situated between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, the 7,011 yards, par 72 course, which was designed by architect Jon Hunt, will host one of the most lucrative tournaments of the season.
The €300,000 prize fund has attracted the cream of the Challenge Tour to Azerbaijan, with in-form Englishman Andrew Johnston, who leapt to the top of the Rankings with victory in last week’s Le
Vaudreuil Golf Challenge, joining ten of his fellow 2014 champions in making the trip to Eastern Europe.
Johnston’s recent form figures make for very impressive reading, having won twice and recorded two further top ten finishes in his last four appearances; and with €48,000 on offer to this week’s winner, the 25 year old will be keen to continue his hot streak and extend his lead at the top of the Rankings, which currently stands at €11,243.
Victory in Quba would, of course, earn instant promotion to the top tier for Johnston, who lost his European Tour card in 2012 after finishing in 163rd place in The Race to Dubai.
His fellow two-time winners Moritz Lampert of Germany and South African Jake Roos, currently third and fourth in the Challenge Tour Rankings, will also be seeking to earn automatic promotion to The European Tour with a third victory of the season.
Having only made his Challenge Tour debut as a sponsor’s invitation last week in France, where he finished in a tie for eighth place after shooting four sub-70 rounds, Fitzpatrick will have to make up a lot of ground if he is to figure in the all-important top 15 places come the end of the season.
But the ultra-talented teenager, who won the 2013 US Amateur Championship, has made a highly encouraging start to his professional career, securing top 30 finishes in consecutive weeks on The European Tour in the Irish Open, where he closed with a round of 68 for a five under par aggregate total, and the Alstom Open de France.
Fitzpatrick will be joined in Quba, which is located 150km from the Azerbaijani capital Baku, by his compatriot Garrick Porteous, the 2013 Amateur Champion who continues his golfing education on the Challenge Tour.
The decision to host this week’s tournament in Azerbaijan forms part of the country’s strategy to stage and promote international sporting events.
Next year Baku will stage the inaugural European Games, which will be the largest multi-sport event ever held in Azerbaijan, and the following year the country will also join the Formula One Grand Prix circuit for the first time.