Insider interview

A guide to golf in Saudi

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For aficionados of a sport associated with lush greens, verdant fairways and rippling lakes, a country filled with deserts might not immediately spring to mind — but if you’re picturing a sand trap when you think of Saudi, think again. Arabia’s earliest golfers teed off way back in the 1940s, when Aramco workers at the country’s first oil fields built courses to entertain themselves during their days off.

Today, the country is home to seven 18-hole grass courses, just hosted the third edition of its own European Tour tournament (the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers) and plans to build 14 more courses by 2030. With those luxurious courses in development, the sport is primed to flourish in Saudi, and the renaissance is already underway. For travelers who are picky about their golf courses, it’s fast becoming a destination on par with Pebble Beach and St. Andrews — and with the next Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers on the horizon, it’s attracting plenty of pros as well.

The organization behind the sport’s boom is Golf Saudi, a subsidiary of the Saudi Golf Federation. It’s led by CEO Majed Al Sorour, a former professional soccer player and an avid golfer himself. We sat down with Al Sorour to discuss the importance of golf for the Saudi people and to learn tips and tricks for visitors, from how to get a tee time to the best season for a Saudi golf vacation.

England’s Andy Sullivan chips out of the bunker during the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club.
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Do you have any tips on golfing in Saudi?

I think visiting GolfSaudi.com is probably the best tip. You can just go there and book your tee time on the individual courses’ sites. I really encourage people to come to Saudi to see it. Royal Greens near Jeddah (in King Abdullah Economic City) is probably one of the most beautiful courses in the world. It sits on the Red Sea. The difference [between golf in Saudi and in your

home country] probably is the time of year that you want to play, rather than just playing it all the time. Because when it’s June, July, August, September, it’s probably a little bit tough to play with the high humidity, but the rest of the year is amazing. I play in Riyadh all year long, so it doesn’t stop me. I go after 4 p.m. in the middle of the summer, and it’s just fine.

What would you say to an American or English golfer thinking of planning a golf trip to Saudi?

You know, I’d say something really simple: Once you arrive, you will understand that the generosity, the terrain and the geography of the country are so much different than anywhere else. The people in Saudi Arabia are really generous and loving. We love foreigners. We get along really well with them. We don’t shy away from them. We like to welcome them to our houses. We like to welcome them to the country. 

A young woman works on her swing during a recent ladies golf clinic.
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Golf Saudi has supported an initiative called the Ladies First Club. Can you tell us about that?

In order for us to actually succeed, we need to give everybody an equal opportunity to come and play ball. We love what we’re doing now. We wanted to have a free membership for the first 1,000 ladies — lo and behold, we have 5,000 on the waiting list. So we’re going to have to open up and expand.

 What will golf in Saudi look like over the next decade?

I can give you an exact number. In 2025, we will have seven more courses, plus what we have now. In 2027, we will have 10 plus what we have now. And in 2030, we will have 14 plus what we have now. And these are exact numbers, actually. I’m mandated to do that, so I have to do it [laughing].

What can golfers look forward to on a visit to Saudi in the next few years?

Within two hours’ travel from north to south, east to west, you’re going to be playing courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, David McLay Kidd, Pete Dye and all the great names. Maybe Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Sir Nick Faldo. These are all the courses that are going to be branded and built in the coming years. It’s going to be some of the most amazing golf courses in the world. It’s going to be the most welcoming country in the world. Our standard of accommodation, our standard of welcoming all different nationalities will be above and beyond all expectations. So we would love to welcome you guys. We would love to have you as our guests.

—Cody Siler is a travel writer who has written for Club Traveler, Alamo’s Scenic Route, Gambit Magazine, Backroads Active Travel and more.