Mohammad Skaik (L) and Rayan Ahmed (R) will be flying the flag for the UAE
Mohammad Skaik (L) and Rayan Ahmed (R) will be flying the flag for the UAE Image Credit: Will Kent Media

Despite the UAE witnessing its heaviest rainfall on record this week, Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club has pulled out all the stops to ensure the second edition of the Abu Dhabi Challenge goes ahead as scheduled from April 18-21.

The game’s rising stars and DP World Tour winners will compete in the seventh event on the Challenge Tour’s 2024 Road to Mallorca schedule, including 2023 Ryder Cup Vice Captain Nicolas Colsaerts, five-time DP World Tour winner Alex Levy, UAE’s No.1 professional Joshua Grenville-Wood and Craig Howie, who is an ambassador for this week’s host venue and has been a regular at the course for over a decade.

The Scotsman’s association with Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club began during winter training camps with the University of Stirling, where Howie found the tranquillity of the course a particular positive.

“It’s great to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities like Dubai,” said Howie, who has made the cut in all six of his Challenge Tour starts this season.

“Al Ain is a little bit quieter, so it’s a perfect place to come and work away from distractions. The course is always in great condition, and the team do a great job of keeping it like that. The practice area is as good as you’ll get anywhere else.”

Howie and Co will be joined by several of the UAE’s homegrown talents thanks to the Emirates Golf Federation’s (EGF) long-term partnership with the European Tour group, which aims to develop golf in the UAE for at least the next decade.

As part of that agreement, the EGF has received 60 invitations across the Abu Dhabi Challenge and next week’s UAE Challenge at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club to help create playing opportunities and provide a pathway for UAE golfers.

Nicolas Colsaerts will be making his first Challenge Tour start of the year
Nicolas Colsaerts will be making his first Challenge Tour start of the year Image Credit: Supplied

Nine of those invitations have gone to UAE National Team players, including the country’s No.1 amateur golfer Ahmad Skaik, his brother Mohammad and Khalifa Al Masaood.

Rayan Ahmed will also be flying the flag for the UAE, one month after securing both the Individual Gold and Team Gold at last month’s GCC Golf Championship in Qatar.

“I am really stoked to be playing my first Challenge Tour event in the UAE,” said Ahmed.

“I can't wait to rub shoulders with the highest quality players on the Tour and represent the UAE. My first target is to make the cut, but at the same time, my focus will be on my planning and execution, and I will take it each shot at a time.

“I love this course. My first time playing I won the Junior Open shooting 65, and last week I played the JAGA International Series and played 9 under par over 3 days with a 63, so my game is up there and ready for the Challenge Tour.

“I know the course well, I’m aware it will be a very different setting and field of competition. I am extremely confident of my long game, and my putting is getting stronger just in time.”

As well as giving local amateurs a taste of elite-level tournaments, two club professionals in the UAE are also set to rub shoulders with the stars of tomorrow.

Dubai Hills PGA Professional Louis Gaughan, who made the cut at this event last season, secured an invite from the EGF after topping the Emirates PGA Order of Merit, while Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club’s Thomas Ogilvie banked an invite after winning the Emirates PGA Play-Offs.

While the local players will be able to take advantage of prior course knowledge, the test this week will slightly differ to what they have come to know after the team at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club introduced ten new tee boxes to lengthen the course from 6,700 yards to 71,17.

With Thomas Love, Director of Agronomy, ensuring those changes to the course were made in plenty of time in the lead up to the club’s Challenge Tour debut, a new challenge was sent his way this week when the course was hit with a major storm that swept across the country.

The National Centre of Meteorology confirmed that the record rainfall that fell on the country was an exceptional event in the UAE's climate history since the start of recording climate data.

The Khatm Al Shakla area, just 36km away from this week’s host venue, saw the worst of the weather with 254mm of rainfall in less than 24 hours.

Despite the challenges that were sent Love’s way, he and his team have done everything in their power to ensure the course remains in tip top shape ahead of tomorrow’s first round.

“It's the biggest storm I've ever seen in my lifetime and something I wouldn't expect to see in the Middle East!” said Love.

“We knew rain was forecasted, so we were already semi-prepared for it. The agronomy team came in at 3am and I think the last storm was around 1.30am.

“Most turf areas were playable and allowed us to let the practice day go ahead. Bunkers however were all full, including cart paths and any roads around the facility.

“It was all hands-on deck this morning with multiple pumps and big 4500-gallon tankers working non-stop all day.

“The main goal is to get the bunkers back in play for the first round tomorrow. I'm still very confident we will have the course in fine shape for the event and be able to showcase our facility.”