President Obiang

Now in its fourth year, the 3e Actuaries Equatorial Guinea Open is growing in leaps and bounds, exploring the prospect of using marquee professional golf events as a tool in destination branding, OLAWALE AJIMOTOKAN who was in Mongomo, E/Guinea reports

The Road to Mongomo
The tournament fittingly lived to its name ‘’Road to Mongomo’’ as many top professional golfers, from 28 countries, braved long travelling hours, international datelines and complex flight connections to arrive the hometown of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, on the border with Gabon for the Equatorial Guinea Open. Men and lady players, numbering 70, and affiliated to professional tours and Ladies European Tour (LET) competed at the impressive 18- hole Presidential Golf Course. Mongomo is in the region of Wele-Nzas to the southeast of Malabo. It is one of the three emerging urban centres, including Mongomeyen and Oyala-Djibloho currently experiencing massive infrastructural investment as part of the construction of a new future capital in Oyala.

Pathway to European Challenge Tour
In what is a wake-up call to Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea is now on the radar of the European Tour, which has stated its intention to list its national open on the European Challenge Tour schedule from 2017. If this becomes a reality, the tiny central African country will host a European Challenge event, joining South Africa and Morocco as the only African official venues on the tournament schedule. The Tournament Director for the European Tour, Jose Maria Zamora, was in Mongomo to assess allied facilities that will make that possible. After meeting President Obiang, Zamora confirmed to THISDAY of negotiations to list Equatorial Guinea on the European Challenge Tour next year. He described the Mongomo layout as a fantastic golf course with a fine clubhouse. Some of the facilities that required improvement are the driving range and the greens. Zamora said European Tour course experts will decide if the present greens are of the right type and if they need modification.

A President’s Happy Moment
The large number of international professional golfers in his country, and the prospect of using golf to boost tourism as alternative to oil as the mainstay of the economy, made President Obiang to promise that the next edition in Mongomo will be bigger. Obiang attended the opening ceremony with the First Lady, Constancia Mangue, where he was treated to booming ceremonial tee shots by the players. Olawale Opayinka of 3e Actuaries said that apart from the Euro Challenge prospect, 500 players will participate in next year’s tournament. Pre-qualifiers will be staged in seven countries, namely, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, USA, South Africa, UK, United Arab Emirates and Sweden and the price money will also be hiked to $400,000, split to $250,000 for men and $150,000 for ladies. The final tournament will feature 50 men and 30 ladies, with all the 14 ladies that attended this year granted wild card status. Opayinka also informed the president that as part of effort to give golf grassroots outlook, the three Equatoguineans currently on training as professional golfers will be sponsored to seven international tournaments, to fast track their grounding. The Sports Minister, Andres Jorge Mbomio, told THISDAY that from January 2017, a golf academy will be established in Mongomo to teach youths, while a professional golfer will impart golf knowledge to the locals every weekend in tune with government’s philosophy to grow the game. Mbomio said though golf is unlike football, its already gaining ground in the tiny country.

Hinton, Echeverria Emerge Champions
The tournament produced two male and female winners in Craig Hinton of England and Paz Echeverria of Chile. Hinton held his nerves on the final day, ending Nigerian monopoly to win the cash prize of $26,000 for men by three shots after a closing round of 72. The Englishman’s path to victory was eased on the third day of the event when he went on a birdie blitz on the back nine, enroute to a course record of 65. Overall, Hinton sank 19 birdies and posted a combined score of 10 under par 278 to leave Swede Peter Gustafsson trailing in second position. Muthiya Madalitso, who from day one, kept in touch with the leaders, carded a final round 75 that left him five shots out of the lead for the third position. Spain’s Xavier Puig finished fourth at three under par 285, one shot ahead of Ferraira da Costa of Portugal, while Ghana’s Emos Korblah and Zimbabwe’s Ryan Cairns shared sixth place at one under par.

Nigeria’s poster boy Andrew Oche Odoh finished in tied for 11th after a bitter-sweet campaign that saw him gross a +2 over par 290. Odoh, who won the 2015 edition, struggled following the non- arrival of his set of clubs and only played with borrowed equipment. After struggling on the first two days at nine over, he adapted in the closing 36 holes, which he executed at eight under par to secure a wild card spot for the 2017 edition. The charming Echeverria carded a total score of 4 under par 286 to beat fellow rivals on Ladies European Tour, Parmela Hurtado and Luna Sobron of Spain by four shots. Rachel Goodall of England was a further five shots adrift for 4th position, ahead of the Anglo- German Leigh Whittaker, who came fifth at 10 over par 298. Nigeria’s lady teaching pro, Uloma Mbuko shot 59 over the course par to finish in tied for 12th position, after falling ill following a jab of polio vaccination received at the airport.

Whittaker Appointed Ladies Captain
Leigh Whittaker has been made the lady captain, joining the male captain, the Nigerian Gift Willy in the overall team coordination.

The German-raised and half English member of LET expressed surprise and honour at her appointment to the new role.
Whittaker, who first visited Africa 20 years ago as a kid and had played three times at the South Africa Women Open, where she was once leading going into the final round, said she loved visiting Africa because the people are friendly and kind.

“I am honoured to be appointed the captain. It was also great to play the tournament alongside many players from all over the world. It was great to play with African ladies here. The course is a true championship layout. I will definitely like to come back,” Whittaker said.