A Fore-gone Conclusion

Golf in Saudi Arabia

By changing the international image of the Kingdom from dunes to bunkers, golf is proving to be a touchstone for wider diversification, inclusivity, and sustainability as well.

Saudi Arabia’s overarching Vision 2030 envisages a society enhanced by public participation and a healthier lifestyle. While sport in the broadest sense underpins this goal, it is golf that carries the torch for the participation drive, with much already achieved. As the Kingdom continues to improve social life there, the universal language of sport appears to be its best spokesman.

Economic swing
Golf Saudi is the driving force (pun intended) behind the national golf initiative. The organisation is responsible for championing the sport by establishing, staffing, and maintaining the nation’s golfing ecosystem. It propels job creation while overseeing the long-term sustainability of the sports sector.

The golf economy’s thousands of previously unheard of specialized jobs range from sustainability officers and turf scientists to golf suppliers and delivery partners, all working within an industry strictly monitored by sustainability auditors trained to the international standards of the modern game.

In a TBY interview, Deputy Chairman and CEO of Golf Saudi, Majed Al Sorour stated that, “Under Vision 2030, the development of sports is a priority.”

Set up in 2018, Golf Saudi is the commercial development arm of the Saudi Golf Federation. “It started,” Al Sorour told us, “from an idea to promote the Kingdom’s tourism sector and […] the Kingdom as a whole from a business perspective. I am proud to say it is possibly the first international initiative. It was really from that point on that all the international initiatives in terms of sport started to roll in.” The Kingdom has, of course, already sent pulses racing with Formula E and is also hot on Formula One.

Hardcore golfers rarely stray far from the green when traveling, and Golf Saudi’s 2025 targets on this front are impressive. Aside from seeking over 5,000 domestic golfing tourists, the objective is for 5,000-8000 overseas visitors per year, with each spending at least USD2,500. Their visits are expected to be facilitated by contracts with 50 international golfing operators.

The world, of course
On the international stage, Golf Saudi has a program of events for amateur and professional alike to showcase the Kingdom’s broader sporting agenda such as the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers and the pioneering Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia has recently completed its fourth edition.

These tournaments have been staged at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, north of Jeddah, with future events scheduled to take place at state-of-the-art facilities conceived by award-winning course designers and architects, among them Greg Norman Golf Course Design and Nicklaus Design.

Central to these facilities will be their environmentally friendly credentials, in step with the Kingdom’s sustainability drive. Golf Saudi partners with key rights holders to host major events locally such as the Asian Tour, the Ladies European Tour, and the MENA Tour.

Championing local content and women’s participation in golf, the roster of events also boasts the Golf Saudi Summit, Saudi International, the Aramco Team Series and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International. The busy roster also saw February witness the launch of the National Golf Week with a seven day drive of golfing events around the Kingdom.

Learning curve
Tomorrow’s golfers and sector professionals are being honed today. As such, the educational component of the golf revolution has entailed developing a base of internationally certified teachers and awareness building among the Kingdom’s youth.

Notably, in 2020, Golf Saudi inked a partnership with the National Training Center for Facilities and Hospitality Management (FHM) underlining the role education will play in societal transformation through golf. Golf Saudi works arm in arm with the Ministry of Education, having also signed an MoU with the Saudi School Sports Federation (SSSF) to develop new talent and support professional potential.

Golf Saudi has also realized junior programs at golf clubs nationwide, while technology such as indoor simulators and e-golf ranges extends the reach.

People are listening
Further confirmation of the Kingdom’s golfing progress has recently emerged. With internet channels increasingly rivaling traditional media for content and viewership, available data shows that sport podcasting saw the greatest YoY rise in 2021 on YoY download growth of 89%. In fact, the KSA’s own Power of the Game podcast on the Kingdom’s massive golfing growth spurt has gained global recognition.

Launched in just 2020, the podcast was shortlisted for the 2022 Sports Podcast Awards along with 127 podcasts from 13 countries. The inaugural awards will take place in March 2022. In line with the Kingdom’s interest in inculcating wide participation in sport, apart from golf the award covers 24 categories, including football, baseball, martial arts, and adventure sports.

Golf is big noise in the world of sport, tied to big names and big money. Yet, for Saudi Arabia it promises to pay still bigger dividends in the years ahead in terms of social participation, public welfare, and international presence.