The Emergence of Golf in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia looks set to follow in the footsteps of Abu Dhabi and Dubai in becoming a world-class golf destination, with new courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

The kingdom hosted the Saudi International in February, now in its third year and the last of three events in the ‘Gulf Swing’ on the European Tour, following The Abu Dhabi Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic. Held at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, the event was won by world number one Dustin Johnson and attracted the likes of major winners Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed.

The tournament is at the forefront of ambitious plans to turn a nation of just 5,000 golfers into a leading golf destination, to bolster the country’s entertainment and tourism offerings. The plans were envisioned by Golf Saudi, set up in 2018 to promote the sport in the country, and are part of its ‘Vision 2030’ strategy which by then will see 13 public-access golf courses built, up from just five today.

Construction is to begin in late spring on Qiddiya, a Nicklaus Design signature course about 40km from the capital Riyadh. The goal is to design a course that can host prestigious events while also catering to players who might be new to the game. The design, which will sit about 2,000 feet above sea level, will have wide fairways and no rough and will include a 9-hole par-3 course and a large practice facility. The development will also include amusement parks, a safari park, a high-end resort hotel and spa and a residential community.

The Norman championship golf course, which will have 27 holes, will be built in Diriyah, around the same distance from Riyadh. The course is being crafted by Greg Norman Golf Course Design (GNGCD) and will be part of a new high-end residential district known as Wadi Safar, which has ambitions to become the Beverly Hills of Riyadh.

Those plans aside, here’s what Saudi Arabia currently has to offer international golfers:

Royal Greens Golf Club

Designed by London based European Golf Design, Royal Greens Golf and Country Club is managed by Troon Golf, the world’s largest operator of upmarket golf facilities. Around 100km north of Jeddah and host of the Saudi International on the European Tour since 2019, it’s a beautifully conditioned, stimulating test of golf with big undulations, water features and a steady breeze coming off the Red Sea. Many holes are played alongside the sea, providing superb views. The length ranges from just over 5,000 yards from the front tees, to just under 7,000 yards from the back tees. It also features floodlit golf, a driving range, golf academy and pro shop.

Riyadh Golf Club

Completed in 2005, this well manicured course measures about 7,000 yards from the back tees and features a great variety of holes including a 689-yard par 5 and a 162-yard par 3 with an elevated green surrounded by water. Riyadh Golf Club is located 30km north of the capital and is referred to as The Pearl of the Desert. There’s floodlit golf and a driving range open until late in the evening.

Dirab Golf & Country Club

Situated in the Tawfiq valley, this tree-lined course was the first 18-hole par-72 championship grass layout in the kingdom. The facility also has a par-3 academy course and extensive driving range and practice facilities. Nine holes are floodlit for play after sundown. Having hosted the first Saudi Arabian National Amateur Championship in 2001, Dirab Golf and Country Club is equally suited for seasoned golfers and for those wishing to learn the sport.

Nofa Golf Resort

At almost 7,000 yards, this par-73 design, around 100km south-west of Riyadh, is set among red sand dunes and contains a small Safari Park between two of the holes with ostriches, gazelles and antelopes. Nofa Golf Resort is highly manicured with clever bunkering and water hazards at 12 of the 18 holes, making it a test for good players. Though three tee boxes are there to aid less experienced golfers. Unusually for this part of the world, there’s no desert areas to swallow up wayward shots as there’s an abundance of grass covering off-course areas.

Safaa Golf Club

Safaa Golf Club is an international standard 9-hole golf course which serves as the central golf recreation centre within the KAUST university campus. Around 40 minutes north of Riyadh, it’s a desert style par-36 layout with beautifully maintained holes characterised by wide playing areas set within the native desert. It plays to a maximum length of 3,575 yards and is fully floodlit.

Arizona Golf Resort

Arizona Golf Resort is sprawling 9-hole grass course is a 2,090 yard, par-34 layout set in the midst of the bustling city of Riyadh in an executive residential housing community. It features an assortment of par 3s and 4s and a par-5 measuring just 376 yards, but with an approach shot of 200 yards over a lake. There’s a practice green with chipping and bunker facilities and a well-stocked pro shop. It resembles desert courses in Arizona, hence the name.

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