With the Barclays Kenya Open forming part of the European Challenge Tour schedule for the 25th time this year, we’re taking a look back at some of the notable performers in Nairobi since our first visit there in 1991.
Two years ago at Karen Country Club, two young South Africans proved impossible to divide after four rounds as a dramatic eagle on the first play-off hole was needed to decide the winner.
The careers of 2015 champion Haydn Porteous and runner-up Brandon Stone have remained inseparable ever since, as they both became European Tour winners within ten months of their memorable duel in Nairobi.
‘It still seems like it was only a couple of weeks ago’
A highly-rated amateur, Porteous had spent the previous couple of seasons dipping in and out of both the Challenge Tour and the European Tour, mainly relying on invites as he sought a foothold at the top of the professional game after an eye-catching debut season on the Sunshine Tour in 2014, where he recorded eight top-five finishes.
The Johannesburger was still only 20 years old when he teed it up in the Challenge Tour’s season-opening Barclays Kenya Open in March 2015, and was harbouring uncertainty over his year’s schedule beyond that week, with a low category on the Challenge Tour not enough to guarantee starts throughout the season.
Porteous followed an opening 66 with a 65 to take a two-shot lead at the halfway point before a level par third round allowed Stone to overtake him by one going into the final day.
The pair both birdied the 72nd hole to finish on 17 under par overall, one clear of George Woolgar, to take it to a play-off, where Porteous drove the green on the short par four ninth hole.
Stone could only make par, giving his good friend two putts to win it – but, in true champion style, Porteous gave the crowds a grandstand finish by holing his long effort for eagle to take the Kenyan crown.
“I remember it well, it still seems like it was only a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I didn’t even have a full exemption on the Challenge Tour – I had some sort of category but it didn’t get me into everything – so to win Kenya was something I really needed.
“I had just turned pro and it gave me a chance to get a European Tour card, but I was not really knowing where I was playing, when I was playing, so to then have full exemption on the Challenge Tour gave me a place to live and to build from where I was, to keep moving forward from stepping stone to stepping stone.”
‘To win the Joburg Open was just another dream come true’
That win looked to have set Porteous up not only for a full season on the Challenge Tour but also for European Tour graduation through the Road to Oman Rankings.
He had not dropped out of the top 15 card-winning spots all year until the season finale, the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final, threw up more than its fair share of drama, with four players – one of them Stone – doing enough on the final afternoon to oust four of the incumbents, including Porteous.
Further disappointment followed for Porteous at the Final Stage of Qualifying School one week later but the co-sanctioned Sunshine Tour events in early 2016 gave him the chance to play a few tournaments on the European Tour before, in his mind, another full season on the Challenge Tour.
That soon got turned on its head when, one week after Stone had triumphed at the BMW SA Open hosted by City of Ekurhuleni, Porteous took an impressive two-shot victory at the Joburg Open, securing his European Tour playing rights until the end of 2017.
“A year later, to win the Joburg Open and to have full exemption on the European Tour was just another dream come true,” he said.
“To play in Europe pretty much every single week is an experience I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a kid and I’ll always keep it very close to my heart.”
‘The winning score around the Challenge Tour is good enough to win a European Tour event’
Unsurprisingly given how fast his elevation from the Road to Oman to the Race to Dubai was, Porteous is still a big supporter of the Challenge Tour, and the important role it plays in helping the best young golfing talent to emerge.
“I have great affection looking back on my time on the Challenge Tour,” he said. “It’s a tough tour out there – a lot of people see that tour as maybe not to the same standard as the European Tour but you look at the scores week in and week out and 20 or 25 under is winning.
“There’s some really decent golf being played every single week and I might get wrecked for saying it but the winning score around those tournaments is good enough to win a European Tour event, so it’s a great place to learn to play golf.“Not only that, it also teaches you about what pro life is all about – it’s not all rainbows and butterflies, it’s tough. You don’t earn as much money and to stay in not the best hotels in the world, try to save money, get on the cheapest flights, it’s a big learning curve in terms of travel experience. To then go to the European Tour and live this more lavish life just makes it all the sweeter.”