Challenge Tour extends its reach into India

Jeev Milkha Singh during the Royal Trophy.

photo

Tommy Fleetwood at the 2009 Walker Cup.

The 2011 European Challenge Tour makes its debut in India this week.

Europe’s developmental circuit gets underway Thursday at Kensville Golf Club in Ahmedabad for the inaugural Gujarat Kensville Challenge, an event Jeev Milkha Singh hopes will further accelerate the growing popularity of golf in India.

Singh, a three-time European Tour winner, co-designed the 7,250 yard, par-72 parkland course. The 200,000 euro co-sanctioned event features a field of 114 players – 60 from the Challenge Tour and 54 from the Professional Golf Tour of India.

“If we had so many world-class tournaments in India during my early career, India would have had a major champion by now,” Singh said. “But I promise that day is not far away, especially after what Arjun Atwal has achieved.

“This is an excellent development for Indian golf. . . Kensville is just the kind of course young Indian golfers need to get used to if they hope to do well at the highest level. It’s a long, windy course with lots of water hazards, which makes it a really stern test.”

Gaganjeet Bhullar spearheads the home contingent, aiming to get back on the European Tour after losing his card last year. Bhullar’s best performance on the European Tour came at the 2009 Barclays Singapore Open, where he finished T-14. Other top Indians in the field include 2010 PGTI Order of Merit winner Ashok Kumar, Mukesh Kumar and Vijay Kumar.

Standing in their way are Charlie Ford of England and Alessandro Tadini of Italy – both won last season on the Challenge Tour, but ultimately didn’t graduate to the big tour.

Englishmen Andrew Butterfield and Gary Lockerbie also are longing to get back to the European Tour after losing membership last season. Countryman Tommy Fleetwood, however, is receiving the bulk of the early attention. The 19-year-old made a good first impression last year on the Challenge Tour, finishing runner-up twice in just six starts. In India, he begins his first full year as a pro after a distinguished amateur career, which included winning the 2010 English Amateur and playing for the 2009 GB&I Walker Cup team.

While Fleetwood was close to earning Euro Tour rights last year, he insists the extra time in the minor league is valuable.

“There is no hurry,” Fleetwood told the Formby Times. “I think it will be a good experience for me to have at least a year on the Challenge Tour. I can take a lot of confidence from the fact that people think I am capable of doing well.”

Information from the European Tour contributed to this report.

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