With Sunday’s announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta that the government would double its sponsorship to 2.2 million Euros (around Sh280 million), Kenya Open golf championship’s entry to the European Tour may come sooner rather than later.
A European Tour status for the Open which marked its 50th anniversary this year, has always been the dream of the organisers.
With the doubling of the prize money, it means next year’s tournament will have a prize fund of 1,000,000 Euros (Sh124.5 million) with the rest of the money to be used for logistics including affiliation fee to the European Tour.
This year the prize money was 500,000 Euros (Sh62.5 million) where the winner took home 80,000 Euros (about Sh10 million).
The new status however comes with a lot of changes for the event. For starters, the number of locals competing in the event may not be as big as it has been over the years, since the locals are not members of the European Tour.
Other changes will include provision of a proper media centre, more seating arrangements for spectators, assuming the event will attract some of the big names in the world.
This year, there was a strong contingent of players from both the Challenge and the European Tour. For the first time in the history of the Open, there were entries from as far away as Australia and Korea.
This was largely because the prize money was increased from 220,000 Euros (Sh27m) to 500,000 Euros (Sh62.5m) this year, a clear indication of how things will be when the Open eventually join the European Tour.
While presiding over the prize-giving ceremony at Muthaiga Golf Club on Sunday, president Uhuru said he would like to see the open being played as a European Tour event in 2019.
“Why do we have to wait longer when we can have the Kenya Open upgraded to the European tour status even next year,’’ Mr Kenyatta said. Currently there are four European Tour events in Africa - the Joburg Open, BMW SA Open and Tswane Open (all played in South Africa) and King Hassan II tournament (in Morocco).
In this year’s European Tour, now popularly as the “Road to Dubai,’’ there are five events offering prize money of 1,000,000 Euros.
This year’s Open also marked the end of the sponsorship deal with Barclays Bank. Two out of 26 Kenyan players, including four amateurs, reached the second round.