Leading MENA Golf Tour players will be out to grab the opportunity with both hands when they pit their skills against elite European Tour golfers in this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club.
Wales’ Stephen Dodd and Zane Scotland and William Harrold (both of England) – the top three professionals on the tour’s Order of Merit standings in 2012 - along with leading amateur Max Williams have been handed special invitations to join a top-class field, which includes the likes of former World Number One Lee Westwood and defending champion Rafael Cabrera-Bello of Spain.
In a special gesture to recognise Pakistani players’ contribution to the success of MENA Golf Tour, golf in DUBAi, has also invited Muhammad Munir, who won the 2012 Ras Al Khaimah Classic before finishing fourth on the Order of Merit.
“The invitation is a massive recognition not just for me, but for Pakistan golf as a whole," said Munir, who used the experience gained on the MENA Golf Tour to great effect by earning his Asian Tour card for 2013 last Saturday.
“I am really grateful to golf in DUBAi for their kind gesture. What they are doing to promote players like me is just remarkable,” said Munir who honed his golfing skills at the Islamabad Golf Club.
Dodd, a three-time winner on The European Tour, however, is no stranger to the region’s oldest European Tour event, having finished runner-up to Ernie Els in 2005 while Scotland, whose burgeoning career was put on hold by a series of career-threatening injuries, Harrold and Williams will be making their first appearance in the $2.5 million event, promoted and organised by golf in DUBAi.
“The Omega Dubai Desert Classic was the carrot we were all after. And it’s very pleasing to achieve that. I played well at times throughout the tour. The standard out there, I can tell from my experience, was very good,” said Dodd, who topped the Order of Merit standings with $27,636 in earnings.
Dodd had his chances to ice the cake with victory in the MENA Tour Championship – the sixth and final event on the tour – but was beaten on the closing hole by Harrold, who only turned professional in February 2012, but displayed a steely nerve to hold off a player 22 years his senior.
"I can't believe it," said Harrold. The Omega Dubai Desert Classic invite, is just awesome. I'm that excited that I'm already thinking of who to bring as my caddie."
Once hailed as the next Tiger Woods when he won a nationwide competition titled Search For A Tiger, aged 14, Scotland was equally ecstatic about playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
"I'm really pleased to have won the invite to the Desert Classic. The one downside is being beaten into second overall (on the Order of Merit), but if someone had offered me the chance to be contesting the Order of Merit in the final event I would've bitten their hand off.”
Meanwhile, having sewn up the Mena Tour's amateur Order of Merit title with a fine display throughout the tour, Max Williams is dreaming big.
"To me, the (Omega Dubai Desert) Classic's the biggest of the three (Desert Swing events) so it's an awesome prize," said the 21-year-old, who already has European Tour experience courtesy of three previous Qatar Masters appearances. "You can't put a price on what you learn from the main tour events; it's an opportunity money can't buy. So it's perfect, really.”
Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice chairman and CEO of golf in DUBAi, said: "The intention behind inviting the top MENA Golf Tour players to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic is to try and substantially enhance their careers.
“Though the tour is aimed at providing a springboard for the region’s leading players to hone their competitive edge and graduate to the next level, it’s quite pleasing to note experienced players like Stephen Dodd have taken this route to put their careers back on track,” said Mr Buamaim, who is also the chairman of the MENA Golf Tour.