A world-first ‘women’s week of golf’ is set to take centre stage in the region this month as Royal Greens Golf Club in Saudi Arabia hosts back-to-back Ladies European Tour events.
WHAT: ARAMCO SAUDI LADIES INTERNATIONAL PRESENTED BY PUBLIC INVESTMENT FUND
WHEN: Thu 12 – Sun 15
The tournament will see a field of 108 LET professionals contest one of the richest prizes on the LET Schedule, with a USD$1 million prize fund. Staged in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation, the 72-hole stroke play competition, which will be broadcast domestically and to more than 340 million homes across more than 55 countries worldwide, will help to inspire a new generation of golfers throughout the Kingdom.
WHAT: SAUDI LADIES TEAM INTERNATIONAL
WHEN: Tue 17 – Thu 19
The Saudi Ladies Team International will start two days after the conclusion of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International and will be the first event of its kind with 36 teams of four competing for individual and team prizes, whilst gaining LET Race to Costa Del Sol, Order of Merit points. Teams will be selected via a draft-style process, giving team captains the power to build a team of their choice.
All eyes will be fixed on the stunning Royal Greens Golf Club this month as the cream of the Ladies European Tour– with a smattering of Major champions and Solheim Cup stars – rolls into Saudi Arabia for a unique double-header.
First up is the individual $1m Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF, then, two days later, the Saudi Ladies Team International will take place. The team event pits 36 fourballs consisting of three pros and an amateur in a three-day shootout with the lowest cumulative score taking home their share of the $500,000 prize pot. Each team will be completed by a pre-tournament ‘draft’ process similar to that seen in the NFL and NBA leagues in the United States.
“We were inspired by the NFL draft process and wanted to create a live draft system of our own, which would see our team captains recruit their players round by round,” said Saudi Ladies Team International Tournament Director Mike Oliver. “This tournament is a completely new and innovative tournament format not seen before on any Tour and I think golf fans globally are always hungry for new content and ideas.
“Undoubtedly it has been a difficult year for all sports, particularly women’s sport. If Golf Saudi can play a small role in supporting the Ladies European Tour, whilst putting on fun and competitive golf then everyone is a winner.
“It is clear that the players love team golf and will enjoy this unique opportunity to try a new format through our ground-breaking and exciting draft system.
“Quite simply, we feel that this new one-off tournament is a chance for Golf Saudi to grow the women’s game in new and exciting ways.
“The draft will take place on Monday 16th, the day before the opening round and will be broadcast for people to watch.”
Each of the 36 team Captains will recruit one fellow Tour pro to their team using the draft system and can base their pick on anything – whether that be current form, ranking or purely friendship. Their remaining Tour professional teammate will be selected at random and the team will be completed by one amateur player. The teams will then play three rounds and each team’s best two individual scores will be combined at the end of each round – with amateurs using receiving ¾ of their official playing handicap. Both events promise to be exciting new additions to the Ladies European Tour schedule which had been decimated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
HALL EAGER TO SAMPLE SAUDI DELIGHTS
One player who can’t wait to get a taste of the action is 2018 Women’s Open Champion Georgia Hall. The Englishwomen has had a 2020 to remember after picking up her first LPGA Tour title on American soil at the Cambria Portland Classic in September, and she’s hoping for a strong end to the season with a good showing in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
“I’m really excited to play as one of the things I enjoy most about my job is experiencing new destinations,” said Hall. “I’ve heard great things about King Abdullah Economic City and the Royal Greens golf course, so I can’t wait to get there. It’s the first event of its kind for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia so it’s exciting to be part of that history.”
Hall is equally intrigued about the draft process that will set up the Saudi Ladies Team International. “I think it’s great that golf is coming up with new formats as I think it’s important to keep the game appealing to new people, especially the young,” she said. “So, I think the fact this can be compared to the drafting in the NFL is really fun and may attract some new fans. As an ambassador for the R&A I take my role in the growth of the sport really seriously and breaking new ground in different countries is important. I really want to be able to say that I’ve helped try to bring new people into the game.”
One thing that has impressed Hall is the drive to grow the game that Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation are implementing through various initiatives, the latest of which will see 1,000 women given free access to the sport at three different golf clubs in the Kingdom.
“It’s a really great initiative,” said Hall. “I think most countries could do more to focus on the grassroots element, so hopefully others will follow this example.”
Hall arrives in Saudi Arabia buoyed by her win in the United States and is feeling good about the state of her game as 2020 draws to a close.
“A win always helps with the confidence, that’s for sure,” she said. “It’s great that we have some big events left this year so hopefully I can keep the momentum going. I’d love to get another win in before the season is over.”
The two events will be showcased worldwide, beaming the action into millions of households and onto mobile devices around the globe. U.Com will be broadcasting the event, with Saudi Sports showing the action to the domestic audience. Dubai Sports Channel will supply the coverage in the UAE while Sky Sports have the rights to the footage in the UK. Golf Channel in the United States will provide their viewers with the opportunity to tune in and GolfTV will stream the event in 20+ European territories. In addition, there will be a live stream on YouTube with those details still to be conﬁrmed.
An astonishing world-ﬁrst initiative that will offer free access to golf to women across three different courses in the Kingdom will be launched the week of the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund. Golf Saudi’s innovative ‘Ladies First Club’ will offer a complimentary membership which will include lessons, driving range access and full 18-hole rounds of golf.
It will be open to all Saudi women, with initial membership capped at 1,000 registrants. All players signed-up to the scheme will be designated as a ‘Ladies First Member’ at either Riyadh Golf Club, Dirab Golf Club or King Abdullah Economic City’s (KAEC) Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, depending on their location.
The membership will include a digital ‘Introduction to Golf’ education pack, which will provide monthly seminars outlining the key aspects of golf for beginners. Each of the three golf courses will also host a Ladies First golf clinic once a month, led by a professional, which will conclude with an on-course induction for all participants and a chance to play an 18-hole round.
Full range access will then remain available to all members of the club, with the programme’s top 12 performers being offered a full, year-round membership at their course of choice.
“The Ladies First Club will be a club like no other,” said Majed Al Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi. “It is our most exciting initiative yet aimed at developing the great game of golf across Saudi Arabia and is the ideal way to celebrate the historic nature of the Kingdom’s ﬁrst ever women’s golf tournament, the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund.
“Golf is growing in Saudi Arabia and we remain committed to our targets. We are already seeing a steady rise in interest from women golfers and we hope the Ladies First Club will help us reach that next level.”
THE STAR NAMES
A Plethora of Major champions and Solheim Cup stars are set to shine in the double-header of events at Royal Greens Golf Club, including two of the last three Women’s Open champions – 2018 winner Georgia Hall and this year’s winner, Sophia Popov. German Popov burst into the spotlight at Royal Troon in August with a sublime two-stroke victory against a world-class ﬁ eld. Coming into the tournament as the 304th-ranked player with no status on the LPGA Tour, the 27-year-old produced a life-changing performance to become the ﬁrst German golfer to win a Major championship on British soil and join the likes of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson to have won on the famed Ayrshire links. She will be joined by the likes of Charley Hull, Caroline Hedwall and Carlota Ciganda, who have each made four Solheim Cup appearances in their careers so far. Also in the ﬁeld are recent Solheim Cup ﬁrst-timers Anne Van Dam (2019), Emily Kristine Pedersen (2017) and Florentyna Parker (2017) and they will be joined by LET legends Dame Laura Davies and Trish Johnson.
“Our vision is to grow golf across the Kingdom and make it both accessible and enjoyable to all women. One of our key initiatives for this is hosting tournaments such as these. In November we will be lucky enough to see some of the world’s best players at Royal Greens ready to inspire the next generation of young female Saudis and build the next generation of female Saudi golfers.” – Majed Al Sorour, CEO Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation