The European Tour’s new tournament in Saudi Arabia was predictably controversial during the inaugural edition last year. The criticism didn’t stop the tour from pressing on with the Saudi International though, the second edition of which takes place this week.
Dustin Johnson is one of a number of bona fide golfing superstars in the field at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. The American took to this new tournament and course like a duck to water last year and is well placed to successfully defend his title at 15/2 with Ladbrokes.
Saudi Arabia is pouring a huge amount of money and effort into its sporting infrastructure. Whatever the motives are there is no doubt that the Saudi authorities are committed to many sports, including golf. Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, the host of the Saudi International, is an example of this investment.
The venue was designed in partnership with the European Tour via their design company, European Golf Design. That ensured it was up to the task of hosting top level golf tournaments and the high quality field that competed in last year’s tournament had positive things to say about the 7,010 yard, par 70 layout.
Amateur golfers find Royal Greens a challenge of strategy because it includes a high number of doglegs. It’s less of a challenge in that respect for professionals who find they can simply use their power to quite literally cut corners. That’s more difficult when the wind whips up at this coastal layout but with calm conditions in the forecast we should be in for a low score.
|Royal Greens G&CC||King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia||7,010 Yards||$3,500,000|
The Saudi authorities are not shy about paying pretty chunky appearance fees to tempt some of the best players in the world to their tournament. Dustin Johnson was one of a number of PGA Tour stars who made the trip to Royal Greens last year and he very much made the most of his trip with a two stroke victory in the inaugural edition.
|Year||Winner||Course||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Dustin Johnson||Royal Greens Golf and Country Club||-19||2 Strokes|
Analysis: The Best Drivers Should Thrive Again
The Saudi International is, once again, banking on the presence of some golfing big hitters to boost the appeal of this new tournament. The likes of Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia are certainly that when it comes to their profile as world class golfers but they’re also big hitters off the tee and it’s that which should allow them to contend this week.
Royal Greens is a course which can be overpowered when the wind lays down so expect the three players mentioned and any other big hitters in the field to gain serious strokes off the tee. Only those who back their big driving up with quality work on the immaculate greens will be able to truly challenge though as putting was crucial last year and should be again this time around.
Johnson Primed to Defend
Many of the players in the field this week and many more who declined the chance to play in Saudi Arabia will have thought long and hard about their attendance. With the best will in the world you don’t get the feeling that DJ gave too much thought about playing in Saudi Arabia.
When you watch Johnson on the golf course he doesn’t give the impression of a man who is burdened by an overactive mind. His laid back demeanour allows him to get on with the task at hand and he works well with his caddie and brother, Austin.
Johnson’s approach worked brilliantly at Royal Greens last year. He very quickly worked out where to take the course on and used his phenomenal power to full effect. Johnson also found himself at home on the world class greens and will be very much looking forward to defending his title.
Two Power Hitters to Support Each Way
Dustin Johnson was well backed in the pre-tournament markets for last year’s Saudi International but those who joined him in the top five places had rather less support in the betting. There are a lot of big names towards the top of the market, many of whom will be in the mix over the weekend but there are also some excellent each way options a little further down.
The first long shot to consider this week is Ryan Fox at 90/1 with bet365. The New Zealand star is up there with the longest hitters on the European Tour and has backed his power up with some very good finishes over the last couple of years. Fox placed sixth last year and can go even better this time around.
The other player to add to your staking plan is Christiaan Bezuidenhout who missed out on his second European Tour win in a playoff against Lucas Herbert last week in Dubai. Bezuidenhout has all the power required to take Royal Greens on and can capitalise on the boost of confidence that his performance in a very big tournament last week undoubtedly gave him.
Final Verdict: Dustin Johnson to Win
Dustin Johnson is the clear favourites with the bookies to win the second edition of the Saudi International just like he did the first. There are many good reasons for that and whilst the betting markets throw up some tempting each way options, Johnson is the man to lend outright support to at 15/2 with Ladbrokes.
About the Saudi International
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most influential countries. It’s the second largest country in the Arabian world, the largest economy in the Middle East and has influence in all manner of different aspects of global politics, thanks largely to its huge role in the oil industry.
It’s fair to say that Saudi is lacking in certain areas of culture such as sport. In an attempt to rectify that, diversity its economy and to change the perception of the Kingdom, the Saudi government has invested vast amounts of money into sponsoring, owning and hosting major sporting events and institutions. Over the past few years this has really been ramped up, with Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight bout in 2019 perhaps the jewel in the crown.
Golf already had strong links with the region and so was an obvious addition to the Saudi’s burgeoning sporting calendar. The European Tour is one of many sporting bodies who have recently developed ties with Saudi Arabia, doing so chiefly with the establishment in 2019 of a brand new tournament, the Saudi International.
Jointly hosted by the European Tour and Golf Saudi (the body responsible for growing the game nationally) the Saudi International has wasted no time in announcing itself and hopes remain high that it will develop into one of the tour’s premier events in the coming years. There are hurdles to overcome but with money essentially no object it seems likely this event will grow and grow.
With the first tournament being held in 2019 it is a little early to speak about trends. That said, Dustin Johnson won the inaugural event and then came second a year later, so he’s clearly one to watch. If that makes you think big-hitting is essential, it’s worth noting that Graeme McDowell won in 2020 and he’s no bomber.
The tournament is part of the Desert Swing (Middle East Swing to some) and plays quite similarly to other events in this part of the calendar. The wind can certainly play a part in these competitions so keeping a close eye on the forecast is certainly wise and blustery conditions certainly helped McDowell in the second edition of this nascent golf tournament.
Big Stars Lend Their Support
Getting a professional golf tournament off the ground is no easy undertaking. The challenge was all the greater in Saudi Arabia given that the country has no golfing history to speak of. What they do have, however, is a vast amount of money and access to some of the finest minds in the golfing industry.
The Saudi International is organised by the global sports events and management company, IMG. They host a plethora of other big tournaments on the European Tour and so know exactly what it takes to put on a successful event. That would be for nothing were it not for the excellent facilities and prize money available at the Saudi International.
The tournament takes place at the world class Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. The course, which was designed by European Golf Design (a joint enterprise between the European Tour and IMG) was opened in 2017 and is a very good test of golf. It’s also visually stunning, set alongside the Red Sea. The course is matched by an incredibly high spec clubhouse and practice facilities, which were designed with the future of Saudi golf in mind.
The quality of everything that goes into the event is matched by the quality of the players who have made the trip to Saudi Arabia. With appearance fees reportedly as high a $3 million for the biggest stars, it is little surprise that players of the calibre of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Bryson DeChambeau and Ian Poulter played in just the first two editions.
Many other big names have resisted the appeal of playing in the Saudi International and therefore avoided the criticism which has come the way of those who have competed. The country’s record on human rights and other issues leaves a lot to be desired but then the same could be said of many countries, including the likes of China, Turkey, Russia and, indeed, the USA. Many argue that sport can shine a spotlight on a nation and help it improve, while others argue that sport and politics are entirely different entities.
No matter where you stand on this issue, this certainly looks an event that is here to stay. Golf Saudi is intent on growing golf in the Kingdom for decades to come, and they have no problem leaning on the stars of the present to give their new tournament a boost.