01 Mar 2020

The sky’s the limit for Golf Saudi’s ambitious project

As a plethora of elite golfers from around the world were competing for honours at the second staging of the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, Majed Al Sorour, Chief Executive Officer of the Saudi Golf Federation and Golf Saudi, proclaimed that Saudi Arabia is ‘open for business’ and ready to kick on in its ambitious development of golf across the Kingdom.

While Major champions Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Shane Lowry, Patrick Reed and eventual winner Graeme McDowell were stalking the fairways at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, Al Sorour was outlining the plans the Kingdom has to grow the game among nationals and transform the country into a fully-fledged golf destination.

Speaking at the Golf Saudi Summit, Al Sorour told delegates the Kingdom, “will become golf’s most dynamic market within a decade,” with Golf Saudi, under the guidence of Chairman H.E. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, now turning its focus to building more courses across the diverse landscape, in addition to hosting more events, including the upcoming Saudi Ladies International, to help enhance the nation’s standing on the global golfing map.  

The Saudi International has been widely hailed as a spectacular addition on the European Tour’s schedule, and with the successful staging of two events – won by Ryder Cup stars Johnson (2019) and McDowell this year – the Kingdom now has a proven track record of hosting world-class events.  

Al-Rumayyan, who received a Global Golf Vision Distinction Award during last month’s event, said: “I can’t thank everyone enough. Of course (I thank) the European Tour for having the second Saudi International as part of their tour. Last year was an amazing year for us. This golf course is a young golf course. And this year it’s even better.”

Al Sorour added: “We are not going to stop with one (event). We’re in communication with the Asian Tour and we’re in communication with the European Tour to have a second event.

“We have the Ladies European Tour and they merged together with the LPGA, so hopefully we get to the point where we have an LPGA event.

“And of course, we’d love to have a PGA Tour event. One and half years ago I sat with Ty [Votaw, PGA Tour Executive Vice President] and had a great conversation on having an idea of putting a PGA Tour event in Saudi Arabia. 

“One of the things we also want to discuss with him is a World Cup of Golf and how we’re going to do that in Saudi Arabia if that’s possible.

“Now, all these plans are great, but we need the places for them. When we start building the next championship course, then we can have other exciting tournaments.”

He added that he wants golf, “to become part of the fabric of modern Saudi Arabia” because of the values the sport requires – commitment, self-governance, etiquette and discipline. 

“Golf isn’t just a game – it is related to various sectors and it creates well-paid jobs that attract Saudis and this country is very much open for business in these hugely exciting times. I hope that this game contributes to help develop the leaders of tomorrow in the economy and all various sectors.”

Opportunities for everyone

The Kingdom is aiming to attract 27,000 registered golfers and to ensure that over one million Saudi nationals have actively tried golf.

Golf Saudi wants to inspire and provide opportunities to every player – regardless of ability, status or gender, and to help develop national talents, the organisation is working on establishing golf camps for children with a minimum of one camp per week at each golf course, with each camp consisting of roughly 30 children.

In order to achieve its plan, Golf Saudi is working in collaboration with both the public and private sector. “Partnership government ministries is fundamental for progress and we are working with the ministries of transportation, education, environment and communication,” continued Al Sorour. “We are working with giga projects and independent developers, so the nation’s golf portfolio will be stronger than ever.”

Golf Saudi has developed a tourism framework to align this strategy with tourism stakeholders in the country. Golf course developments are close to conclusion in the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh and the Red Sea Project. In addition, other giga and mega projects in the Kingdom will also feature golf facilities at Diriyah Gate and Neom.

Al Sorour said that the National Golf Team is gradually improving and he anticipates that it will be able to compete on a global level within five years while Golf Saudi is collaborating with the Ministry of Education to include golf in the basic and higher education system.

“We cannot spread the game’s culture without cooperating with the education ministry,” he said. “We are having constant meetings and trying to create a partnership to integrate golf in the school curriculum.”

‘Living Golf in association with Golf Saudi’

Also announced at the Golf Saudi Summit was the news that CNN’s flagship golf programme will return this month under a multi-year sponsorship and will now be called ‘Living Golf in association with Golf Saudi’.

Cathy Ibal, Senior Vice President, CNN International Commercial, said: “Over many years, CNN’s Living Golf has delivered the world of golf some of its most memorable and talked-about moments. The sponsorship of Living Golf by Golf Saudi marks a new era in the show’s history, and sports fans should be highly excited about the prospect of its return to the air.”

What did the players have to say?

Ian Poulter 

It’s always important to grow the game of golf in new territories and Saudi has invested heavily into the game. I don’t know how many courses they are going to have in a few years’ time, but if you look at what Dubai and Abu Dhabi have done then you are going to see something very similar happen here as well.

Bernd Wiesberger

Golf Saudi are really trying to develop the destination for golf and tourism and I think if we can be part of that – then great.

Shubhankar Sharma

It’s great that Saudi are opening up their doors to tourists all over the world and golf is definitely helping get more people to visit as they want to play on these fantastic courses that the pros do.

Adri Arnaus

The tournament is fast-becoming one of the best on the European Tour. The Tour are helping grow the game out there by having a tournament in the Kingdom with some of the world’s greatest players on show.

Majed Al Sorour

What we are trying to do as Golf Saudi is to take the 2030 Vision and to transform and build an ecosystem for golf in KSA. From that we came up with five pillars and those pillars are going to transform golf in KSA in the short term and the long term. In the short term, the fastest win that we can have is hosting an event, so we found a means by meeting with the European Tour, we signed with them and we will be able to have the Saudi International for the next five years. This is a start to let people know in the world that we are opening up our country for many great things to happen. I would like to thank His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for giving us the opportunity to open up the country and allow tourism. His Excellency Yasir Al-Rumayyan is also an integral part of all this development in golf.

Othman Almulla

We’re very ambitious people in Saudi Arabia. We have big plans and we aim to achieve them. I believe this tournament will be the start of something massive for our country. Golf is going to go from strength to strength. A lot of people think this tournament will be culmination of all the hard work that has been put in so far, but I believe this is only the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Saudi.

Golf fans from around the world are going to get a taste of Saudi Arabia and what our culture is really like. I’m really proud to be a part of that. The 2030 vision has truly opened a lot of doors for us in the Kingdom.

Prince Khalid bin Saud Al Faisal

Internationally it is vitally important for people to see the impact of the tournament and the fact that players like Brooks Koepka come to play here. If people come to Jeddah to see the golf they will also find out about the great natural resources that we have here, it’s a magnificent country. We have assets that people can visit and as a destination it offers much more than many other places in the world – there’s history, archaeology and culture.

Phil Mickelson

We were treated so well, and had a wonderful experience here. The course is spectacular. I’m very pleasantly surprised at what a quality golf course this is, because I know there’s a lot of growth and a lot of courses being built, and this is a great standard to try to keep up with.

Graeme McDowell

I think one of the things I’m most proud about in my career is the places I’ve won golf tournaments. I’ve won a lot of tournaments in some fun places like Saudi Arabia.

The tournament week really exceeded my expectations on a lot of levels. The hotel is very comfortable. The golf course was fantastic. They took great care of us, and obviously golf is an emerging sport here and anything we can do to contribute to where this nation wants to go. I wish this country well, I really do in golf, and hopefully I’ll be back to defend next year.

Dustin Johnson

The hospitality has been great. I enjoyed it last year. Everybody’s been more than welcoming, and they have been great. So I looked forward to coming back this year, and this year was a lot of the same, if not better. They treat us great over here, and they do a great job with the golf course. It was a great event.

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