This week marks the beginning of the European Challenge Tour’s end of season Chinese Swing, with the destiny of the 15 European Tour cards still all to play for. First stop: Sanya Luhuitou Golf Club for the Hainan Open.
Para, Para, Paradise
Hainan is the smallest and southernmost province of the People’s Republic of China. There are ten major cities and ten counties in Hainan; Haikou is the capital and Sanya is a well-known tourist destination. Sanya Luhuitou Golf Club is located in Sanya, on the southern coast of the island with stunning views of the South China Sea. Mooted as the Hawaii of China, Sanya welcomes millions of tourists each year thanks to its beautiful beaches, rich history and magnificent mountains.
The start of something special
Despite the Road to Mallorca beginning in April and visiting 23 different venues before reaching the Challenge Tour Grand Final next month, everything can change in the next two weeks. Players have been jostling for position for the last six months as they fight for a European Tour card, however two good weeks in Hainan and next week’s Foshan Open could change everything, such is the size of the prize funds.
In 2018, 12 of the 15 graduates were already inside the top 15 by the time the Hainan Open rolled around, but fast forward two weeks and everything had changed. A third place finish for Sean Crocker propelled him up to 17th in the Rankings, before a tie for third in Foshan a week later moved him inside the top 15. Victor Perez and Robert MacIntyre, meanwhile, made moves in Hainan, then their play-off dual in Foshan secured their playing privileges on the European Tour.
In the three-year history of the Hainan Open, each of the tournament winners have gone on to play on the European Tour the following year. Erik van Rooyen, the 2017 Champion, and last year’s winner Kalle Samooja are both now plying their trade on the European Tour, with the South African recently winning his first title on the top tier. Following a maiden season which resulted in him winning the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year Award, van Rooyen excelled this season and tasted success at the Scandinavian Invitation. Samooja, meanwhile, came close to winning in his first season when he lost in a play-off at the Omega European Masters.
Please don’t rain…
Last year’s Hainan Open was blessed with blistering hot weather and blue skies, but that was not always the case. The 2016 event was cut to 36 holes due to torrential rain, with Germany’s Alexander Knappe being crowned Champion after only two rounds. With the forecast currently looking varied for the event, everyone will be keeping their fingers crossed for benign conditions and a 72-hole event.
European Tour Fans Club
Ahead of the inaugural Hainan Open in 2016, the Hainan branch of the European Tour Fans Club was officially launched. The innovative programme encourages golf fans from all over the country to come together and play, watch and enjoy the European Tour. Golf is a growing sport in China and the European Tour is at the forefront of that growth. The Challenge Tour has two tournaments in China; the Hainan Open and the Foshan Open, while the European Tour has a further three events – the Honma Hong Kong Open presented by Amundi, Volvo China Open and the WGC – HSBC Champions.