Jordan Smith was the winner of the 2016 RAK Golf Challenge. Image Credit: Courtesy: Organiser

Dubai: A three-year tie-up announced on Monday sees Ras Al Khaimah become the final event on the 29-stage European Challenge Tour season, with the Order of Merit now known as the ‘Road to Ras Al Khaimah’.

Starting from this year, the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final at Al Hamra Golf Club from October 31 to November 3, will see the top 45 golfers in the second-tier development series qualify for the yearender with the top 15 finishers in the Order of Merit getting their cards to next year’s European Tour.

The prize pool will be $515,000 (Dh1.89 million) with a bonus pool of US$100,000, to be shared among the merit’s top three.

Ras Al Khaimah was the penultimate stage on Tour for the past two years but Oman, the previous year-ending event, was promoted to become a main European Tour event for the first time this season and so the emirate has stepped in.

“It was always our ambition to host the grand final but we used the penultimate exercise to give players an opportunity to experience Ras Al Khaimah and the amenities we have to offer,” said Haitham Mattar, chief executive officer of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA).

“It also gave the European Tour confidence in our ability to deliver on these events, and us the ability to understand our capabilities, and that gave us strong confidence from great feedback.

“The impact on Ras Al Khaimah’s economy has been significant especially when you look at hotel revenue and occupancy increase,” added Mattar, who highlighted the fact that the Road to Ras Al Khaimah travels to key existing and developing markets for the emirate.

Nick Tarratt, director of the European Tour’s Dubai office pledged activations at each Road to Ras Al Khaimah event to engage potential tourists to guarantee the emirate a return on investment.

He also announced plans to engage the local community with pro-am qualifying slots and a parallel-running UAE national contest to ensure the event has a legacy, and said broadcasts of the year-ending event would penetrate 400 million homes with four 46 minute highlight shows beaming Ras Al Khaimah to the world.

Dubai already stages the main European Tour’s season-ending event, the DP World Tour Championship held at Jumeirah Golf Estates every November, with the money-list dubbed the Race to Dubai.

Meanwhile, the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic at Emirates Golf Club in December wraps up the Ladies European Tour season, and the Seniors Tour kicks-off in Sharjah every year with the Sharjah Senior Masters.

“The region is very much getting stronger and the model of tourism, facilities, climate and hospitality is a winning one that we hope to expand further,” said Tarratt of the European Tour’s development here since starting with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in 1989.

“There’s a window of October to April and where else in the world would they like to play? This is a destination of choice for players. We are trying to grow the business here and there’s more scope highlighted by ongoing discussions,” he said of hopes to expand in Bahrain and Kuwait, after already securing Saudi Arabia and another possible event in Jordan.

Mattar admitted that becoming a full European Tour event was part of the emirates’ long-term vision.