A swinging game
To the beat of Sinai music, a Briton won the Al-Ahram-Jolie Ville European Challenge Golf Tournament. Mohamed El-Sayed has all the scores from Sharm El-Sheikh
As the dawn fog slowly began to part, the players began warming up at the practice ground. Golfers normally cocoon themselves in private concentration, self-absorbed, indifferent to everything outside their personal routines.
Having finished their stretching exercises, they got down to serious business, embarking on an 18-hole journey to win the $125,000 prize money of the Al-Ahram-Jolie Ville European Challenge Tournament.
One hundred and forty-five European challenge tournament golfers from 24 countries began sending balls high in the sky, with spectators, especially Egyptians, attentively watching from close range.
At the Jolie Ville Golf Resort in Sharm El-Sheikh last Thursday, the European Challenge Tour arrived in Egypt for the first time. And it was the first ever official European golf tournament to take place here.
After the first two rounds, 84 players were eliminated; 61 continued on to compete in the third and fourth rounds. Gareth Davies secured a stunning victory, carding a final round 66 for a four-round total of 15 under par 265 to take the title and secure his place on the European Challenge Tour for the remainder of the 2004 season. The Challenge signals the beginning of the main body of the Challenge Tour season and with his maiden Challenge Tour victory now secured, the 26-year- old from Sheffield now tries to secure a spot in the top 15, and with it a place on the European Tour International Schedule 2005.
"I don't really know what to say at the moment," Davies said. "I can't believe I've won," after he won the first prize of $20,000 that sees him enter the Challenge Tour Rankings in eighth place. "Now I can step up a level to the Challenge Tour and try to get myself into the top 15 on the rankings."
Neil Cheetham took second place with his 13 under total of 267 and is now 11th on the rankings. "I did leave a few putts out there today, but Gareth has done brilliantly for himself and I'm pleased for him. It's a wonderful achievement for him. I have nothing but congratulations for him, especially as he's a fellow Sheffield boy."
Denmark's Joachim Larsen and Jose Trauwitz of Mexico, who fired 66 and 67, shared third place on 12 under.
The trophies were delivered amidst a spectacular Egyptian folklore show consisting of Upper Egyptian troupes and tannoura dancing. Ibrahim Nafie, editor-in-chief and chairman of Al-Ahram, Hassan Hamdi, head of the Al- Ahram Advertising Agency, Minister of Youth Alieddin Hilal, Minister of Tourism Mamdouh El-Beltagui, the president's son Gamal Mubarak, Khaled Abu Taleb, head of the Egyptian Golf Federation were there to award the winners.
Folklore shows continued to be performed during the tournament run which was held simultaneously with Sinai's national day.
Alain de Soultrait, director of the European Challenge Tour, said the tournament had been a great success. "Our decision to come to Egypt was an easy one to make for many reasons. Being the first time to hold a European event in the country is an honour, and we hope that this is the first step on a long, successful road for golf in Egypt. We feel it is important that the Challenge Tour plays its part in developing the game around the world and we continue to look for new countries and venues to visit."
Another deciding factor in coming to Egypt, continued Soultrait, was the Jolie Ville Golf Resort itself. "It is a first class facility that rivals anywhere we have visited on our travels. We will remember Al-Ahram-Jolie Ville Tournament for many years to come. We travelled to many countries but it is difficult to say we were as warmly received anywhere else. After this hospitality, we can look forward to holding this tournament in Egypt in the coming years."
Indeed, Hussein Salem, chairman of Neama Company for Touristic Investment, the tournament's sponsor, announced that the event would be held on the same course for the next three years.
As the game is not widely practised in Egypt, Egyptian spectators, including the writer, followed the players from hole to hole to try to figure out rules and tactics. Holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, some walked over five kilometres along with the players to acquire first-hand knowledge of the sport.
"There is no doubt that this kind of tournament will help spread the game in Egypt," said Abu Taleb. "In 1995 we had only 300 players. Today we have more than 3,000 and the numbers are on the increase. We also have 13 courses in various parts of the country. Today, you can open the newspapers and read about golf tournaments being held in Egypt, and this, of course, helps promote the game in the country."
After the groundbreaking trip to Egypt, the Challenge Tour players now move on to Spain for the Peugeot Challenge de Leon, with the Tessali-Metaponto Open di Puglia e Basilicata taking place in Italy the following week. The five tournament winners of 2004 are within the top 15 places on the Challenge Tour rankings, with those 15 places at the end of the season being rewarded with a place on the 2005 European Tour.