Sustainability and Women in Golf

By tapping into the universal passion for sporting excellence, Saudi Arabia is pursuing a transformative program of participatory social change with measurable environmental consequences and gender inclusivity.

Saudi Vision 2030 is a comprehensive initiative to position the Kingdom internationally as a major economic and cultural player. As such, it entails an unprecedented roster of programs to ensure sustainable growth, while opening up leafy new avenues of possibilities for citizens and foreigners alike.

Playing the long game

To achieve the above, the sustainability of national health, biodiversity, and the wider environment, fronted by a circular economy, regenerative ecosystem, green energy, and water provision are today integral parts of economic policy for the long-term prosperity of the Kingdom. At the citizen level, with the nation long suffering from widespread chronic illnesses, the state seeks to address national health by inculcating greater public interest in active sport. Golf, in particular, is playing the role of caddy, carrying a deeper bag of initiatives with sustainable credentials. This involves the creation of an entire new green golf ecosystem and supply chain featuring sustainable technology and locally nurtured technical staff to put it to work.

The long-term nature of the aforementioned initiatives is confirmed by Majed Al Sorour, the CEO of Golf Saudi. “When it comes to sustainability,” he tells TBY, “we have combined three organizations, which has never been done before,” which has signed up to the UN framework. Those include “Atlas Turf, specialized in growing seeds that suit different conditions; SATIR, which funds water and soil initiatives to promote efficient seed planting; and the Geographical and Environmental Organization (GEO).” Meanwhile, an MoU has ensured a “controlled sustainable amount of water for the ideal irrigation of soil to grow seeds for diverse environments.”

18 holes, six pillars

Golf Saudi, which was established to propel the Kingdom’s golfing initiative, is inculcating the idea of golf as a participatory sport. Under the umbrella of Vision 2030, a public-private sport-prioritizing initiative is being rolled out with a maturity date of 2025.

The first pillar naturally enough involves public access to golf clubs and resorts and entails investment across all 13 regions to ensure coverage beyond the main cities. Second comes the fostering of local talent through exposure to international events and stars, along with the assurance of best practices. The third pillar concerns mass participation spurred by the four specific stages of awareness creation, the stimulation of interest through niche development and online campaigns, loyalty programs, and new golf product development. The fourth pillar involves the staging of prestigious golfing events that will bring in household name players to Saudi Arabia while promoting the Kingdom’s golf assets worldwide. And in fifth place comes the tourism component.

The Kingdom has seen a gradual rise in visitor numbers, and the pre-COVID-19 data is impressive and telling. In 2019, the 19.9 million arriving visitors marked a 16.93% YoY rise. The goal is to attract between 5,000-8,000 international golf visitors each year. Most relative to our purpose here, the sixth and final pillar targets sustainable development by creating a comprehensive golf ecosystem of environmental, economic, and social consequence in step with the overarching Green Agenda, plus the objective of upskilling the local workforce. All of these pillars, and the circular economy they stand to generate, entail measurable goals that lean on a rising passion for golf.

Golf Saudi’s Al Sorour is unequivocal about what he expects from the Kingdom’s golfing initiatives: “Our goal is to eventually become a prominent force in the worldwide golfing universe, and that is what I am trying to accomplish.” In a population of 34.8 million, creating 20,000 new jobs is no mean feat. But that is exactly what Golf Saudi envisages from the sport alone, ranging from grass green keeper, caddy master, and pro-shop clerk to club house manager and turf scientist.

Women teeing off

Though unfortunately delayed by COVID-19, the Kingdom has taken notable strides in recent years to raise the participatory opportunities available to women. And as such, the golfing arena has been a prime launchpad for related initiatives. “We put together the Ladies First Club,” says Al Sorour “to give the first 1,000 people free membership and training, and in the first four days alone the club was oversubscribed.” The program’s top 12 performing women have been offered full, year-round membership at the course of their choosing. The Ladies First Club at the Aramco Saudi Ladies International professional tournament, for one, has offered 1,000 local women annual golf memberships to include golf clinics and online tutorials, apart from actual time on the green.

Promotion has relied heavily on key female influencers promotional interests, culminating in the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International in 2020, the Kingdom’s first professional ladies’ golf tournament. Moreover, looking beyond individual satisfaction, the broader initiative involve fostering a national women’s team to propel the nation internationally. Saudi Arabia continues to work with the Ladies European Tour as part of a five-year initiative which began in 2021. The Aramco Team Series, which takes place globally from New York to Jeddah, sees professional women playing with one lucky amateur keen to contribute to overall team glory. Golf is a major sporting activity across the planet. But clearly in Saudi Arabia, it is being factored into a much broader narrative of environmental magic—given the terrain—and wider women’s participation as the Kingdom reforms itself on the international stage.