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Golf 2010
As with many top sports there is a misconception about the relative financial status of golfís participants, and while obviously the gameís elite players arenít short of a few bob, just a division below the main tour, a lot of those taking part in European Challenge Tour events would consider themselves lucky to close the season twenty grand to the good. Some of them have invested a small fortune trying to make it into the big time and far from being loaded some of them will make a loss from the sport in spite of playing at a level just one below the highest. This explains why many talented players drop off the circuit after knocking on the biggest doors, and in part explains some of the fierce but gentlemanly spirit on show at the second string tourís richest event, The Kazakhstan Open.

Me holding a QUIET PLEASE placard

That the recent Almaty event alone paid winnings almost the equivalent of a seasonís prize money on the Challenge Tour should not come as a surprise to anybody, but thatís a different story. Instead, in spite of low spectator numbers and a dearth of really big names competing, this tournament finishing in September 2010 can consider itself to have been a success. Not for its impact on world golf, nor even for its contribution to publicising Kazakhstan to the world, but rather for the quality of its golf on a very challenging course.

The Spaniard, Alvaro Velasco, having lost his place on the main tour the previous year, won the tournament in style after four days of solid and impressive golf. Along with a neat sixty-thousand Euros, he won his card back and a lot of admirers after a five shot victory to which a host of other talented players had no answer for most of the event.
Also performing impressively were younger players whoíve never graced the main European events, namely the Italian Federico Colombo who many tip to join Velasco in the top flight later in the season, the Scot Jamieson, the Argentine Zapata and an Aussie called Daniel Gaunt who was vying for the lead when cruelly distracted by a driver needlessly over-revving his engine. Sadly for this lad, he can only blame the arrogance of this action for one shot and he will know that the distinction between champions and also rans is not always technical ability but the ability to recapture it when things go wrong. Doubtless Velasco had a smoother ride round the course distraction-wise, but the consistency of the way in which he took it explains his victory more than the snags hitting the others on the leaderboard.

The Zhailjau course is excellent. Well designed and maintained, it provided a superb setting for a tournament of this nature and many will not be surprised to learn that top professionals recommend it as a venue for an event on the main tour. Others, however, are more cynical, not about the course but the whole package and few of the organisers will feel totally comfortable with the lack of people watching a free event in their own city. Some forty people (including volunteers) followed the leaders round on the final day, which is remarkably low and a reminder of how low sport remains on the list of priorities of local people as a whole.

While prize money remains so attractive, the course so lush and the players so keen to get a share of both, this tournament will be an important fixture on the Challenge Tour calendar. A few modest improvements in a few areas and it wonít be beyond Almaty to welcome the likes of Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose in the not too distant future.

Practice Nets

These nets were inflated as part of the event and a pro-coach offered free lessons after which participants clearly showed massive improvement. I've taken the company name and hyperlink off because they never saw fit to thank me for including it.