A new era begins this week at the NBO Oman Open as the host venue Al Mouj Golf, and the nation of Oman, make the step up from Challenge Tour success to the European Tour. Three players also hoping to do just that are previous winners in Oman - Clément Sordet, Bernd Ritthammer and Ricardo Gouveia.
The Frenchman, German and Portuguese comprise the list of champions of the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final - the season-ending event of the Challenge Tour season held here from 2015-17 - and all three will play together for the opening two days in Muscat.
For Sordet, the memories of such a special victory are the freshest, and the 25 year old will be hoping to capitalise as he looks to emulate the kind of form which made him a four-time winner on Europe’s top developmental tour.
After a strong start to his maiden European Tour campaign – clinching a top ten at the UBS Hong Kong Open three months ago – Sordet is in good spirits in Oman.
“It’s always good to come back to a place where you have won and it was a really nice place to win, especially at the end of the year last year. It’s good that the tournament is on the European Tour now,” said the Nice-based player.
“I remember a lot of shots, especially the hole in one of course, which was my first professional hole in one, but if I had to pick one really special moment it would have to be the last putt. That’s when you know you’ve done it and you’ve got the trophy.
“My goal last year was to finish in the top 15 in the Road to Oman Rankings but that win meant I finished second which was really nice. It’s my fourth time playing this course and it has changed during those years but it is certainly a good advantage for a player like to me to have played here.
“There is not much rough and it’s only fairways, water or bunkers, but the layout is amazing, especially the finishing hole which is quite special.”
Gouveia, meanwhile, is the longest-serving European Tour player of the trio, having retained his card for the past two seasons after winning the 2015 Challenge Tour Rankings thanks to his triumph in Oman.
During that time, the 26 year old rose to become the highest-ranked Portuguese player in the history of the Official World Golf Ranking but has struggled for consistency of late. He will be hoping to put that right at the venue of his most recent win.
“I have a lot of great memories from 2015,” said the London-based player. "It was a great end to a great year for me and it got me the European Tour card for the 2016 season.
“I really remember the back nine on Sunday. I was kind of struggling a bit all week but getting away with scoring well. Then on the back nine something clicked. I got five birdies in a row which put me into a two-shot lead, and then I saved par on the last to win.
“It was amazing to have my dad on the bag. He loves golf and he loves being around me and my brother, who also plays, and obviously that week was very special for us all.”
Ritthammer, meanwhile, has the same old friend on the bag that caddied for that victory back in 2016, and he is in need of a big result this week if he is to regain his place on the European Tour, having lost his card last year.
“It’s great to be back,” said the 30 year old. “It has been a while but I have only good memories obviously. It was just a lot of joy, a lot of happiness – being done in the last tournament of the season and getting a third win to give me a new category above the other graduates, it’s hard to beat really. I had my friend on the bag who is here this week so I’m looking forward to it.
“This venue definitely deserves a place on the European Tour. On the Challenge Tour schedule, it was one of the best course layouts, if not the best. I think it deserves the big stage and that’s what it has got now. I was very pleased to see it make the step up and that’s where it belongs.”