Majed Al-Sorour hails Saudi International’s ‘immense impact’ on Kingdom’s golfing growth

LONDON: The Golf Saudi CEO and Saudi Golf Federation Deputy Chairman Majed Al-Sorour looks ahead excitedly to the fourth annual tournament in an exclusive Q and A with Arab News

The PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers returns to the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club at King Abdullah Economic City on Feb. 3-6, after growing each year since the inaugural event back in 2019. What will make this year different?

This is now our fourth event and, following three hugely successful hostings as part of the European Tour, the 2022 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers will be the tournament’s first as an official event on the Asian Tour. This comes following the recent announcement of a 10-year partnership between the Asian Tour and the PIF Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers — an incredibly exciting new dawn for the tournament that will see us welcome not only the best golfers from across Europe and North America, but now Asia too, cementing a field of 126 truly world-class golfers. 

Why were the Saudi International organizers so keen to partner with the Asian Tour?

It has been fantastic to welcome so many of the world’s biggest names to our event since 2019, and we have been pleased with how the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers has progressed in the past three years. Our new partnership with the Asian Tour will be vital to the tournament’s future success due to the undeniable importance and potential of Asia’s position in world golf.

Players, sponsors, and fans will benefit from this relationship in a variety of ways. For the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, the partnership has allowed us to once again elevate our field and tournament prize money, which rises from $3.5 million to $5 million. Most importantly, we are looking forward to collaborating with major circuits to help create a more inclusive game for all qualified professional golfers alongside passionate individuals who are eager to learn more about golf, as we do see this as a promising first step in that direction.

One of the main goals of the Saudi International is to inspire more Saudis into taking up golf. As we head into the fourth event, how has the game grown in the Kingdom over the past four years?

That is absolutely the goal of not only the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, but also the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF — and our Aramco Team Series events — too. And it is safe to say that the impact of these events has been immense on golf in Saudi Arabia. We have seen consistent year-on-year growth in the number of men, women and children playing golf within the Kingdom, including more than 1,200 female golfers who have signed up to learn to play in just the last year alone, following the launch of Golf Saudi’s Ladies First Club free golf initiative.

We see our major tournaments as huge moments of inspiration for the people of Saudi Arabia, but we also see them inspired by the work being done on the ground level year-round by the likes of Golf Saudi’s Mass Participation Program, which ahead of the 2022 PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers has been visiting schools Kingdom-wide as part of a trophy tour to further excite the next generation of Saudi golfers. These youngsters don’t have to look far for inspiration, with the likes of Othman Almulla — Saudi Arabia’s first professional golfer — plus Faisal Salhab, recent winner of both the Saudi Open and Pan Arab Championship in Egypt, and Saud Al-Sharif, who won the Jordan Open last year — our two shining light amateurs, who have both won big amateur events recently, including the Saudi Open — doing our country proud on an international stage.

Together, these all help us pursue our own targets under the wider ambition of Vision 2030, including having 3.5 million Saudis try golf for the first time by then; cementing 29,000 new regular Saudi golfers; engaging 135,000 children actively with golf; certifying 900 new physical educators to deliver our schools’ golf program in 320 different schools; and creating 2,300 jobs within Saudi Arabia’s golf industry.

In 2020, directly following the second Saudi International, Golf Saudi hosted the Golf Saudi Summit, a major corporate event that attracted international companies such as the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf, Atlas Turf and the Club Managers Association of Europe, who have since developed programs that contribute to the development of golf in Saudi.

This year’s Saudi International will boast its strongest field to date. What do you think attracts the majority of these world-class players to the tournament in Jeddah?

The future we are building here is focused on the next generation. Many of these global superstars find that an easy concept to get on board with and throw their weight behind supporting. These world-class golfers participate in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers as a means of helping the game grow in new territories, like here in the Kingdom, as they are passionate about the game’s future. They also know the many benefits that come from playing golf and seek to inspire the younger generation to become more involved in a sport that provides so many physical and mental benefits — and is a game you can play for life.

It’s no secret that a number of the highest-ranked tour pros coming to play the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers are paid an appearance fee — just as they are at many other tour events around the world — and being elite athletes, they thrive off playing against the best in the world. We have one of the strongest fields in golf outside the majors this year, so from a professional standpoint for many of them it makes sense to play here.

Motives are also, I believe, altruistic — there is a genuine desire to see the game flourish in non-traditional markets. We are a big believer that growing golf will help the nation and people of Saudi Arabia in the future, and there’s no doubt that these events are the catalysts for increasing participation in Saudi.

Finally, we take pride in our world-class hospitality and from feedback we’ve received, we firmly believe the golfers who’ve played in Saudi have had an experience of playing an event that cuts above their usual week-to-week.

By now, we can tell golf truly is growing in Saudi Arabia. As the CEO of Golf Saudi and the deputy chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation, what does this mean to you?

It means we are heading on the right track. The scale, breadth and success of the initiatives, tournaments and events we have introduced in recent years show that more and more Saudis are engaging with golf every day. In the past year alone, we’ve taken Saudi-led events as far afield as New York, London and Spain, drawing a raft of major-winning male and female golf stars to each, all to rave reviews from the players and fans. As a country and in line with the goals of Vision 2030, we remain as ambitious as ever in continuing to develop and grow golf in the Kingdom. We have more members than ever before, more on-course Saudi success than we’ve ever had, more courses, more coaches, more kids picking up clubs: These are all very positive signs. While we continue to look ahead, we can take the odd moment to look back at what we’ve achieved to date and be very proud of that.

What else can we look forward to at this year’s tournament?

Everything that makes the Saudi International the perfect day out will return this year, in a safe, COVID-controlled environment. That includes our superstar-packed field, which will feature the likes of two-time tournament champion Dustin Johnson, 2020-winner Graeme McDowell, and major-winners Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Shane Lowry.

As well as up-close spectator spots for all the live action, ticket-holders can come and soak up the unspoiled views off the Red Sea coast, where they can enjoy a coffee or mocktail in what is maybe the Kingdom’s most picturesque coffee spot. There will also be food trucks, live have-a-go fun games, challenges and entertainment for all the family, and VIP hospitality for all those looking for an extra-special day.

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