Al Ain Equestrian Shooting & Golf Club
Al Ain Equestrian Shooting & Golf Club will welcome the golf stars of the future in April Image Credit: Supplied

With the Challenge Tour’s Abu Dhabi Challenge just under two months away, preparations are well underway at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club as they get set to host a European Tour Group-sanctioned event for the first time.

Abu Dhabi Golf Club hosted the inaugural edition last season, but tournament organisers opted for a brand new host venue for the first of two Challenge Tour events in the UAE in April, with Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club bestowed the honour of welcoming the stars of the future as they bid to play their way onto the DP World Tour.

“Obviously the members are excited and very proud that their golf course will be hosting some of the best players in the world,” said Shane Peacock, Director of Golf at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club.

“We’ve already had plenty of requests from members to volunteer for the week, so there’s a lot of buzz within the club. It’s something we’re all really looking forward to.”

Prior to being selected as host venue, questions were asked by tournament organisers and the Emirates Golf Federation as to whether the club could host a tournament of this magnitude.

Shane Peacock
Shane Peacock is the club's Director of Golf Image Credit: Supplied

A field of 150 plus golfers travelling from all over the world takes a certain amount of planning after all.

The biggest of those questions? Whether the 6700 yard layout from the back tees would sufficiently challenge the players.

To put the length of course into context, Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course measured 7642 yards when hosting last year’s edition, which was won by Ricardo Gouveia.

“They basically asked us if we could lengthen the course, as it previously stretched to 6700 yards off the back tees when we first spoke to them,” said Peacock.

“They came and had a look, suggested some new tee boxes and asked us if we could go about adding them to the course.

“Over the past nine to twelve months, Thomas Love, our Director of Agronomy, and his team have been busy building ten new tee boxes, which stretches the golf course to 7100 yards at par 70. We feel that’s a pretty good test.”

While this may be the biggest event the club’s agronomy team has prepared for, they’ve been working under the expert guidance of Love, who is no stranger to setting up courses for the game’s biggest tournaments, including the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump Bedminster.

“The golf course is holding up very well considering we are at the tail end of the winter, with a few big storms coming through, including one with incredible sized hailstones,” said Love, who has worked at the club since the beginning of last year.

“We did have a few areas that got damaged, but our agronomy team got straight back out and got the golf course back up to scratch immediately.

Thomas Love
Thomas Love has previously helped set up the course for the prestigious Players Championship on the PGA Tour Image Credit: Supplied

“Our biggest challenge to date has been the rough. We usually mow it 51mm, the paspalum here in the winter tends to go dormant and doesn’t really grow much during the colder season. The Tour has advised what their ideal height is and I’m very confident of hitting that. We’ll be pushing fertility and have stopped our members from driving through the rough in the carts, which should help aid growth.

“The last thing I need is for good old Mother Nature to help us with some soil temperatures, which I’m sure isn’t far away given we are in the middle of the desert.

“During tournament week it’s a case of everyone has their job which they’ll be well aware of. We just need to get in, get our job done and let the golfers compete in the event. We’re really looking forward to hosting this tournament in April and showcasing all our hard work.”

Big name players

Last year’s event was a star-studded affair, with the field featuring 19 former DP World Tour winners boasting a combined 46 top tier triumphs between them.

That impressive stable of champions was led by Alvaro Quiros with seven DP World Tour wins, including victories at the 2011 Hero Dubai Desert Classic and 2011 DP World Tour Championship.

Former Dallah Trophy winners David Howell and Stephen Gallacher were also in attendance, along with multiple DP World Tour winners Matteo Manassero, Brandon Stone and Mikael Lundberg.

While many of those names have regained the playing privileges on the main European circuit, Peacock is hopeful of another strong field when the event gets underway on April 18.

“I think if you look at the Challenge Tour now, it’s full of quality and past DP World Tour winners,” said Peacock.

“Probably the biggest name to look out for is Alex Levy who has won five time on the DP World Tour, so hopefully he makes an appearance.

Sport - Golf - Ricardo Gouveia
Ricardo Gouveia won last year's event en route to sealing DP World Tour playing privileges Image Credit: Harry Grimshaw, Gulf News

“Also a special mention to our own Craig Howie, he’s a Scottish Challenge Tour player who plays a little bit on the DP World Tour and the Challenge Tour this year. He’s attached to Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club, so he is someone we’ll be pointing our members towards to cheer for.

“It’s going to be great to have such a strong field in Al Ain.”

The tournament, alongside the UAE Challenge the following week at Saadiayt Beach Golf Club, will also create playing opportunities and provide a pathway for both Emirati golfers and residents of the UAE, with the Emirates Golf Federation receiving 30 invites.

A number of those have already gone to winners of Majors on the Emirates Golf Federation’s Order of Merit this season, while the champion of the upcoming Emirates PGA Championship is once again expected to receive an invite.

Louis Gaughan, PGA Professional at Dubai Hills Golf Club, secured a spot last year by winning the Emirates PGA Championship, before going on to make the cut and finishing 54th at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

“It’s a superb incentive for kids and local pros to go out and practice and try and play their way into a Challenge Tour event on their own doorstep,” said Peacock.

“It gives them a chance to sample what it’s like to play on the big stage. It’s a superb local initiative.”