The European Tour returns to North Africa this week with the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco. The geographic location is significant, for it was on the northern portion of the African continent that in 1982, then Executive Director and now Golf Channel analyst, Ken Schofield took the tour outside of European territory for the very first time with the Tunisian Open. Twenty-eight years later, the European Tour schedule plays 22 of its 50 events outside of Europe.
I was chatting with Schofield about the decision recently, and he told me he encountered a slight resistance, mainly from the purists for moving off “home soil.” But because the tournament was played a week earlier than the usual kick-off, no existing events were jeopardized and the tour members had an additional opportunity to earn their living, it went ahead without incident.
Many players already traveled to Africa to play the South African Sunshine Tour in those days, but restrictions stemming from Apartheid prohibited them from playing elsewhere in the continent, however the tour managed to avoid that loop-hole because the event was sanctioned by a British based organization. Sunshine Tour regular, Mark James took the title in the tournaments second playing.
The European Tour began traveling to Morocco later that decade, visiting this week’s venue, Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in the capital Rabat, and the late King’s (for whom this week’s tournament is named) course in Agadir. The story goes that when the tour made its second visit to the latter in 1994, such was the privacy and therefore rare play of the course, that when the staging team arrived for a survey and to ready it for tournament play, the tee markers and pin positions were in the exact same spots they’d placed them in the year before.
A rarity this week in European golf, both the men and women will be playing in the same country at the same time in concurrent pro-ams. The men will be in Rabat, the women down the road in Casablanca.
Among the men in the field is Paul McGinley, who returns to action following a sixth operation on his left knee in November. The former Ryder Cup player and four-time tour winner has been recuperating in California but is now ready to return to action.
On the women’s side, Scottish teenager Carly Booth is making her professional debut. Booth has huge potential both in sporting and marketing circles and could provide a much needed boost to British women’s golf. Despite recent major victories from Karen Stupples and Catriona Matthew, the sport has failed to capture the public interest. Success from Carly and 22-year-old Melissa Reid from England, who’s also in the field this week having been on the tour for the past two seasons, will provide a much needed spark.
We’ve just passed the “200 days to go” marker in the run-up to the Ryder Cup. I know it seems a long way off, and indeed it is with all the hullabaloo that will occur between now and then for obvious reasons, but work continues on the Twenty-Ten course to ready it for the big occasion on the first three days of October.
Estate Manager, Jim McKenzie, has been implementing the changes authorized by European captain Colin Montgomerie, which involve tweaks to holes on the back-nine despite the awful weather the region has experienced. Snow blanketed the course for much of January and February.
Tickets for the Ryder Cup are available through a ballot system which ends in April. Practice day tickets are on sale now. Visit www.rydercup.com/tickets
But remember, and I can say this because I have Welsh heritage and family living in South Wales, in the words of Nick Faldo’s closing speech at the 2008 Ryder Cup, don’t forget to bring your rain gear.
And finally, fans of Peter Alliss will be pleased to know the legendary commentator and Ryder Cup player will be touring later this year. Peter will be conducting “An Evening with Peter Alliss” at various theatres across the UK.