Julia Engström 16, from Sweden (above), is the youngest competitor in the field
The Ladies European Tour returns to Morocco this week for the sixth edition of Lalla Aicha Tour School. The Final Stage of qualifying for 2018 starts on Saturday, December 16 and concludes on Wednesday, December 20.
A total of 106 players, from 18 countries, will battle it out at Amelkis Golf and Palm Golf Ourika Marrakech – a new venue for 2017, which was conceived and designed in a desert style landscape by Canadian duo Neil Haworth and Stephane Talbot and opened in November 2015.
The Final Stage of Lalla Aicha Tour School will be played on two courses over five rounds (90 holes), with the players split into two fields, A and B, playing on alternate courses for the first four rounds, after which there will be a cut to the top 60 players and ties going into the fifth and final round, which will be played at Palm Golf Ourika.
The top five players will gain Category 5b status of the Ladies European Tour for the 2018 season. Those players placed 6th – 25th will gain category 8a status.
Previous winners of the Final Stage have used the experience as a springboard to success, with last year’s winner, Madelene Sagstrom from Sweden, being selected by European Captain Annika Sorenstam to play in this year’s Solheim Cup at Des Moines Country Club in Iowa.
Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand, Nanna Koerstz Madsen from Denmark and Aditi Ashok from India, who topped the qualifiers in 2012, 2014 and 2015 respectively, all went on to win LET tournaments and represent their countries in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Jutanugarn quickly claimed her first LET title in Morocco and was the first Thai player to seal a major championship victory in 2016 before becoming the number one ranked golfer in the Women’s World Golf Rankings in June 2017. Their success demonstrates the enormous opportunities that are available to the players who qualify for the Ladies European Tour.
This year’s field includes 53 potential rookies, including several with experience of playing in tournaments on the LET.
Julia Engström 16, from Sweden, made her LET debut competing in the 2014 Helsingborg Open aged 13. Last year, at 15, she became the youngest player to win the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship at Dundonald Links earning her starts in the 2016 US Women’s Open, Women’s British Open and Evian Championship. She has also represented Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup, Vagliano Trophy and this year’s PING Junior Solheim Cup.
Mathilda Cappeliez, 19, from France, who also represented Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup, has played in the Lalla Meryem Cup, Turkish Ladies Open and Evian Championship as well as the Terre Blanche Ladies Open on the LET Access Series. She qualified for the 2014 US Women’s Open and made the cut, aged 16.
Former English number one amateur, Gemma Clews, 23, competed in last week’s Omega Dubai Ladies Classic and represented England in the Espirito Santo Trophy at the World Amateur Team Championships in Mexico last year.
There are several returning players in the field, such as Madelene Stavnar from Norway, who turned 17 in Dubai on Saturday, Morocco’s own Maha Haddioui and Sharmila Nicollet from India, who has struggled with injuries in recent years.
The Ladies European Tour’s Qualifying School was first played in Morocco in 2012, when it was renamed Lalla Aicha Tour School in honour of HRH the Late Princess Lalla Aicha. The tournament is organised by the Hassan II Golf Trophy Association (ATH), chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Moulay Rachid. ATH also organises the Lalla Meryem Cup, a full-field event on the LET.