The Saudi International is a fairly new tournament on the European Tour, having first been played in 2019. The tournament’s addition to the calendar has courted some controversy, though hefty appearance fees have been enough to attract many of the world’s top players to compete.
The event takes place at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, which is located in the King Abdullah Economic City, a development to the north of Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea.
The inaugural tournament was won by American Dustin Johnson who followed up the next year finishing second to Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell. Johnson then made it two wins in three tournaments with a repeat victory in 2021.
|Royal Greens G&CC||King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia||7,010 Yards||$3,500,000|
The design of Royal Greens Golf and Country Club was overseen by Dave Sampson for European Golf Design. They are involved in the design of many new golf courses around the world which eventually host European Tour events but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this was designed to be a serious test of the world’s best golfers.
Royal Greens is a par 72 for its members but at 7,010 yards would be almost ludicrously short for that par when the European Tour rolls into town. Therefore, two of the par fives have been cut to par fours but that still provides only limited defence to the overall score in relation to par.
The straightforward nature of the course plays into the hands of the power hitters who will be able to turn many holes into the stereotypical ‘drive and a flick’. That was exactly how Dustin Johnson did it when winning the inaugural event with a score of -19 two years ago and we really don’t see it being any different this time around.
That said, Graeme McDowell was able to win last year despite being one of the shorter hitters on tour as he was able to dig in and play some smart, defensive golf when the wind whipped up off the Red Sea in the final round. The wind is forecast to be at its strongest on Thursday so there may be a bit of luck involved in getting on the right side of the draw but scoring should improve as the week goes on.
Saudi International Recent Winners
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2021||Dustin Johnson||-15||2 Strokes|
|2020||Graeme McDowell||-12||2 Strokes|
|2019||Dustin Johnson||-19||2 Strokes|
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.