By Joy Chakravarty
They are known as the Three Musketeers of Dubai golf. Josh Hill, Arjun Gupta and Toby Bishop are just 14 years old, but they are ready to go on an incredible golfing adventure, beginning with this year’s MENA Tour.
The rapiers and the musket are replaced by razor-sharp irons and woods that demand equal amount of respect for its lethal nature on the golf course. The high boots and the wide-brimmed hats with feather plumes give way to FootJoys and golf hats of various OEMs. And the threesome has the same unmistakable zeal to create a space for themselves in the golfing kingdom.
And Josh, Arjun and Toby are almost inseparable – on the golf course and off it. Most EGF tournament leaderboards have featured the trio in the top-three places. They were No1, 2 and 3 in the Men’s Order of Merit in 2017-18, and No1, 3 and 2 in the 2016-17 Junior Order of Merit. They even practice together – at the Dubai Sports City-based Claude Harmon Performance Golf Academy, where they are coached by Jamie McConnell and Joe Marshall.
“We like to hang together while playing golf and even outside the golf course. It’s best to stay together so that we can get as much competition as possible,” said Josh, who is now part of the England Under-18 squad and winner of last year’s Faldo Series Middle East final in Al Ain last year after shooting an incredible 62 in the final round. Arjun and Toby were tied second on that tournament.
Having swept almost every EGF title in the UAE, and several abroad, the trio has now decided to test their skills against the professionals and the region’s leading amateurs on the MENA Tour. They have entered for the Qualifying School in Ayla Golf Club later this month, and then plan to play all 10 events scheduled on the Tour.
The MENA Tour was the obvious choice, say the golfers.
“I feel it is just good to gain experience from some of the leading players in the region and then there is the opportunity to gain a lot of World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) points as well,” says the home-schooled Arjun, who started playing golf at the age of six when introduced to the game by an uncle when holidaying in India.
“The WAGR points are very important for us,” adds Josh. “The higher you get there, the more tournaments you get invited to play. Those are the tournaments that you’d like to play well in and get your name known in the golfing circles.
“I am looking forward to playing with some of the pros who are also planning to play on bigger tours after performing well on the MENA Tour. I played one of the Tour events in Els Club in 2017 and loved every moment of it. Since then, I always wanted to play on the Tour.”
Toby said the success of Dubai-based Rayhan Thomas, who is also a stablemate as he trains at the Claude Harmon Performance Golf Academy, was a shining example for players like him.
“For me, the MENA Tour was the obvious choice after playing and doing well in the EGF Men’s Open events. Obviously, we have a great example in Rayhan and what he has done on the MENA Tour. He is like our role model for the path we want to take,” added the winner of the Faldo Series Grand Final last year.
David Spencer, Strategic Advisor to the Tour, commented: “Young and ambitious players like Josh, Arjun and Toby are the reason why the MENA Tour is one of the most exciting development Tours in the world.
“Like our Tour, these boys are truly made in the region. These are the talents that can grab the spotlight early in their careers and become superstars in the future. We wish them all the best.”
The MENA Tour is returning to the world schedule after a year of restructuring and will feature 10 tournaments in 2019. It will continue to provide Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points, thus making it a perfect pathway for ambitious young professional to the bigger tours, and for the players from the region to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The 2019 season of the MENA Tour starts with the Qualifying School at the Ayla Golf Club. Because of the massive interest, the Q School is being played in two stages with a minimum of 30 cards available from A and B stages. The three-round Q School-A starts Wednesday, January 30, while the Q School-B (already fully subscribed) starts Sunday, February 3.
The first tournament of the 2019 season will also be played at the Ayla Golf Club in Jordan from February 7. It will be the first tournament in the history of the MENA Tour to offer a total prize purse of US$ 100,000.
The Spring Season of the Tour will feature five tournaments in February and March, followed by another five tournaments in the Autumn Season in September and October.
Five fantastic playing opportunities have been lined up by the MENA Tour by Arena for the top five players on the Order of Merit after the Spring Season. This includes spots in leading tournaments on various Tours like the Maybank Championship, the Trophee Hassan II, the Jordan Mixed Open and the Indonesian Masters.