TOM Buchanan has already had a chuckle at his odds for this week’s Dubai Open. “First-ever Tour event and the bookies are running scared…” he said, jokingly, in a post on Facebook of seeing that he is listed at 500-1.
Nonetheless, the Scot is excited to be playing in the $500,000 event – it gets underway tomorrow at The Els Club with Ryder Cup captaincy favourite Darren Clarke in the field along with the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, David Howell and Jeev Milkha Singh – and rightly so.
Three years ago, Stranraer-born Buchanan took a bold step by swapping Duddingston, where he had become a fully-qualified PGA professional under Alastair McLean and also a popular figure with members of the capital club, for the desert.
Having started as golf operations supervisor at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club in the United Arab Emirates, he is now the head golf professional there. In tandem with that job elevation, his own game has also moved up to a new level from his Tartan Tour forays.
Buchanan, a former Edinburgh & East of Scotland Alliance champion, finished eighth on the 2014 Mena (Middle East and North Africa) Golf Tour Order of Merit to secure one of the coveted invitations for this week’s event, which is the final one of the year on the Asian Tour.
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“I have really enjoyed my time here in the UAE and it’s definitely a place that has improved my knowledge of golf, as well as improving my performance,” admitted Buchanan, who is being joined in the 72-hole event by fellow Scots Danny Kay – the 2011 Scottish Amateur Championship runner-up is making his professional debut – and Paul Doherty, a former Scottish Boys’ champion.
“Golf in DUBAi hosting the Dubai Open now means that four of the world’s Tours end in Dubai (the Challenge Tour, European Tour and Ladies European Tour have all reached their conclusion there in recent weeks), which is great for golf in the Middle East,” added the 34-year-old.
“Obviously for me the Mena Golf Tour has helped me to progress my game and is now allowing me the chance to play in a Tour event. My club, Al Ain Equestrian Shooting and Golf Club, have also been very supportive of my playing and that obviously makes things easier. I am looking forward to testing my game against the best that the Asian Tour has to offer.”
His preparation has included playing against some of Scotland’s best upcoming players – the likes of Bradley Neil, Ewen Ferguson and Connor Syme – with Al Ain having just hosted a 21-day winter training camp for the Scottish Golf Union.
“We have had nine elite men’s players and two junior players over and they made full use of our world-class practice facilities,” he said. “They play with the members while they are here and it’s great for them to see first hand elite golfers and see what it needs to take to become a top-quality competitive golfer.”
Unlike any of the other third-tier circuits, the Mena Golf Tour runs Orders of Merit for both amateurs and professionals but they play together. Indeed, Dunbar man Kay finished fourth in the amateur standings this season and has now decided to give it a crack in the paid ranks.
“I think that both sets of pros and ams would benefit from playing in the same competitions,” said Buchanan of something that has been suggested should happen on a more frequent basis in Scotland. “Although UAE golf is on a smaller scale compared to the Scottish game at the moment, we play an end-of-season game versus the amateurs.
“It involves the top 16 from the respective Orders of Merit in a two-day three-round match-play tournament. Greensomes and fourballs on day one and singles on day two. The event is sponsored by Dubai Golf and it’s a great competition. It’s fun but no one wants to get beat.
“In Scotland, of course, we used to have the bunkered Matchplay Challenge and something similar would benefit both aspiring golf professionals and top amateurs.”
As golf has grown in the UAE, club professionals like Buchanan and Peter Downie, the director of golf at Dubai Creek, have proved great ambassadors for Scotland. No-one, however, has done more in recent years in that part of the world to put the home of golf on the map than Stephen Gallacher following his record-breaking back-to-back wins in the Dubai Desert Classic.
“Stephen recently hosted a Golf in DUBAi Day at Emirates Golf Club and there is no doubt that he is a name well known throughout the country,” said Buchanan. “I spoke with many players who played in that day and they complemented Stephen on his interaction with them during the event. In my mind, he is a class act on the course and off it and I look forward to watching him play again this year in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai.”
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