Martin Dempster: No room for false dreams on Tour

Scott Jamieson, at 31, is the youngest Scottish player holding a European Tour card. Picture: Getty Images
Scott Jamieson, at 31, is the youngest Scottish player holding a European Tour card. Picture: Getty Images
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SO SHOCKED was a South African colleague covering the Turkish Airlines Open to learn that Scotland’s youngest player holding a European Tour card is 31-year-old Scott Jamieson that I swear I could have knocked her over with a feather.

Lali Stander, it should be pointed out, knows a lot more about Scottish golf than many people in this country, having seen the likes of Michael Stewart, David Law, Bradley Neil, Ewen Ferguson and Daniel Young visit South Africa in recent years on winter training trips.

“Never mind head and shoulders, Michael Stewart was waist and higher above any of our players in terms of ability,” she said in recalling the Troon Welbeck man winning the South African Amateur Championship in 2011.

Having witnessed that same title being claimed the following year by Leven’s Brian Soutar before Daniel Young from Craigie Hill secured a third tartan triumph in the event in five years back in March, it’s understandable that Stander is a fan of the Scottish system. “When the Scots come out to South Africa, they are so disciplined,” she observed. “They run together – and for miles, too. They go to the gym together, practice together and also eat together.”

Based on recent evidence – and the age statistic backs this up –all that isn’t helping our young players make the transition into the professional ranks, and perhaps the South Africans have found something in that crucial development phase that we should be trying to focus on.

Now in its sixth year, the IGT Tour is a circuit for male and female amateurs and professionals. It consists of 72 events, all over 54 holes with the vast majority of them in Gauteng, and is primarily aimed at giving emerging talents the chance to “acclimatise to the pro environment and to make an educated decision about their future”.

It’s similar to circuits like the PGA EuroPro Tour, the Pro Golf Tour and the Alps Tour, but the difference is that the IGT Tour’s founder, Cois Du Plooy, doesn’t encourage hollow dreams and appears to have a real handle on the modern game, one where it is harder than ever to reach the top of the ladder.

“The aim of the IGT Tour is not winning, it is stroke average,” revealed Stander, who has wept tears of joy in seeing Ernie Els, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen become major champions over the years but also been left heartbroken by the likes of Anton Haig and Matthew Kent failing to fulfil their talent. “If a player’s stroke average isn’t 70 or better, then Cois discourages them from going to the Qualifying School. He can’t stop them, of course, but, in the main, the players listen to him. He also talks to all the parents and the biggest problem at times is educating the parents more than the kids.”

In each of the last three seasons, over 80 per cent of the players successful at the Qualifying School for the Sunshine Tour, which is effectively the Challenge Tour’s equivalent, have been IGT Tour graduates and, more importantly as it shows that they’ve been ready for that step up, 60 per cent have then kept cards for the following season.

“It’s a tool to help young players – the bulk of them being from 18 to 20-year-old – learn and also to stop our drain of amateur talent,” said Stander of a problem that is also evident in Scotland.

“He can often find himself farting against thunder, but Cois has talked a number of players out of turning professional.”

It’s amazing to think that, for all the success South Africa has enjoyed on the world stage over the years, it’s been achieved without a national squad in place. Helped by funding from Johann Rupert, the building blocks are currently being put in place for that to be established, with one of the aims to give young amateurs the international exposure Scots get on their trips to the Rainbow Nation.

“Your boys have done incredibly well in South Africa in recent years and the likes of Michael Stewart, Bradley Neil, Ewen Ferguson, Daniel Young and Greig Marchbank are all fantastic players,” observed Stander. “The South Africans lift their games immensely when they come up against the Scots and I’m shocked that your youngest European Tour player at the moment is 31.”

With Neil and Stewart among those competing in the second stage of the Qualifying School in Spain at the end of the week, hopefully that might change before the gun goes off for the 2016 campaign.

Major player Turkey aims to be ‘strongest bidder’ for 2026 Ryder Cup

While it may be laughable to some to think that Turkey can host a Ryder Cup one day, there’s no doubt that it has become a major player in golf tourism. According to one expert on a panel discussing a KPMG report published during the Turkish Airlines Open, “what Spain did in establishing its reputation as a golf destination in 15 years has been achieved by Turkey in three years”.

In the space of a decade, the number of rounds of golf played in Turkey, the majority of which have been in the Antalya area, has risen from 15,130 to a staggering 513,216. In total, five million golfers have teed it up in Turkey in that time.

Of the 35 new courses in the pipeline, 25 are in Antalya, including one that will be built specifically with a Ryder Cup in mind, with Ahmet Agaoglu, president of the Turkish Golf Federation, having vowed that the country will be the “strongest bidder” for the 2026 event.

After three years at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal, which has been an outstanding host venue, the Turkish Airlines Open is moving to a new home, the Regnum Carya Golf Club, next year when it is expected to revert to the third of the four Final Series events after being moved to the head of the list this time due to the upcoming G20 summit in Belek.

It’s not a bad thing to move events about a bit, as we’ve seen with the Scottish Open since it left Loch Lomond, and the Montgomerie Maxx Royal, which, in the wake of Victor Dubuisson’s second Turkey title win in three years, allowed a bunch of golf scribes to become the first to test out its new floodlit back nine on Sunday night, can still expect to be on the bucket lists of those thousands upon thousands of enthusiastic golfers heading to that part of the world in years to come.