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Siem Reap set for 2010 Open


A golfer tees off at the Phokeethra Country Club course, which is set to host the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open from tomorrow. Photo Supplied

The fourth edition of the Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open golf tournament, which tees off tomorrow at the Phokeethra Country Club in Siem Reap, offers Asian Tour pros a penultimate stop to tidy up their tournament cards and avoid qualification hassles for the next season.

The US$300,000 event, the Kingdom’s richest sporting venture, is crucially important for the touring pros to secure a safe berth within the comfort zone of the 65 top finishers at the end of the season. With the Black Mountain Masters at Hua Hin in Thailand bringing the curtain down on the 2010 season a week after this event, good performances in Siem Reap inevitably lead to better placements.

In terms of prize money, the Cambodian Open meets minimum Asian Tour standards but its timing makes a profound impact on the field.

“Being the season’s last but one [event], it could well shape the destiny of some players when they cross over to the next,” Asian Tour Senior Director Htwe Hla Han told The Post yesterday. “The winner gets a two-year exemption from the qualifiers and the top five will directly get into the Black Mountain Masters.”

The Singapore-based tour development executive added that “the main goal is to spread golf to every corner of Asia, and an emerging market like Cambodia plays an important role. The amateur talent is there to be seen and it is time Cambodia sent out a pro on the Tour.”

The heritage and history of Angkor Wat and the hospitality laid out for the touring pros had made the Cambodian Open a popular tour destination. The title sponsorship by Johnnie Walker and the Royal Government’s unwavering support had clearly raised its stature, said Htwe.

Meanwhile, the busiest man at the sprawling Phokeethra Country Club is Operation Manager Jack Hedges, who brings his European Tour experience at to his one-year appointment in Siem Reap.

Hedges, who marshalls a staff of about 300 at the course for its showcase event, is in no doubt that golf’s profile has gone up and the Kingdom is fast developing into a major destination in the region.

“We can clearly see the growth year by year. I will not be surprised if one or two breakthrough the amateur ranks for Cambodia and this Asian Tour stop is an important one for local golfers,” he said.
“It is a longer course. It is a challenging one. It calls on everyone to put their thinking caps on and the totally contrasting holes also make it a bit tricky.”

Top course for top Tour event
The first world-class international golf course in Seam Reap, the Phokeethra Country Club, is ranked among the top-five of the best new courses in Asia by Asian Golf Monthly Magazine. The grounds are steeped in Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage.

Located next to the clubhouse and first tee is the ancient 32-metre wide Roluh Bridge, which dates back to the 11th century and represents the link between the past and the present day. The Phokeethra Country Club’s slogan invites the golfing fraternity to “Tee-off in the 11th Century and finish your round in the 21st Century”, with the Roluh Bridge as the central feature of the club’s logo.

The weather would not have been a factor at all but for yesterday evening’s unseasonal showers and forecasts of sporadic rain over the next two days. As one local golfer put it: “Rain and Siem Reap are not the best of friends. I do not really remember the last time it rained here.” Undaunted by the meteorologists’ predictions, the pros used every minute of the last practice
session yesterday.

Today is a day of fun, with a Pro-Am event on the cards followed by a gala dinner at the famous Bayon Temple. However, tomorrow morning it is back to serious business with competitors teeing off from 7am.

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