Updated: Jul 4, 2021
The first golf in Saudi was played on 'greens' resourcefully fashioned out of stretches of sand primed with oil by some of the ex-pats working in Saudi Aramco. And while I am delving into the recesses of memory here and potentially relying on hearsay from my early days in Bahrain. I did find some proof to back up my claims and my memory.
Dick Severino writes in Swinging in the Sands, "The balls are red because in the glare of the desert sun. You can't always see a white ball against the sand and rocks. The greens are brown or sometimes black because they are made from oil-treated sand. The fairways are hard because they are made of sand or marl sprayed with oil and compacted to preserve them from the desert wind. They sometimes also have moving diversions: camels, donkeys, goats, sheep, and their keepers, wandering at will across the line of play".
Aramco built its first course in 1945. Followed up, over the years, with approximately two more courses designed in a similar fashion. The largest of the early courses were situated near Dhahran and comprised of 27 holes! Despite the crude nature of the early courses, I remember listening to old-timer ex-pats visiting Bahrain for a weekend from Dhahran, regaling endless tales of wild and exciting golf, confirmed with leg slapping and uproarious laughter, "those were the days".
Golf in Saudi today is infinitely more sophisticated. The courses are all manicured to perfection, technical, lusciously green, and shaded by native trees. Titans of the game enjoy playing annually in the Kingdom. There is a growing annual calendar of exciting events, including the Saudi International Championship in partnership with the European Tour. The Saudi Ladies International and the Aramco Saudi Ladies Team International are all organized and run by Saudi Golf Federation.
In 2021 there are four fully-sanctioned Ladies European Tour (LET) tournaments taking place in Jeddah. The Aramco Team Series will be a high-profile international event held in New York, London, Singapore, and King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC). Each tournament carries a USD 1 million prize fund.
The KAEC course is north of Jeddah by an hour. It is a fantastic 5 Star, 18 hole Royal Greens Golf & Country Club of scenic Arabia chiseled along the Red Sea coast. Royal Greens is home to many of the major golfing events for the Saudi Golf Federation. Membership is 30K SAR for a single and 50 SAR for a Family. With an RG membership, you can also play at the other SGF clubs such as Dirab Golf Club and Riyadh Golf Club.
For us mere mortals, we can perfect our skills around Riyadh at four different courses. All good courses and challenging enough to guarantee that you will never have two games the same, at whatever time of day you play.
Riyadh Greens Golf Club 18 hole course 30 mins north of Riyadh City
Dirab Golf and Country Club the first 18-hole golf course in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 40 mins west of the city
Arizona Club 9 holes in the middle of the Capital city
Nofa Club Resort an 18 hole course designed by Barrie Gregson and a firm favorite of the Riyadh-based golfers.
Finally, the most recent exciting golf news for Saudi is Jack Nicklaus, the renowned golf course designer and the greatest champion in the game's history with a record 18 professional major championships, is designing his first-ever Saudi course here in Riyadh. It will be a championship golf course for the Qiddiya Project. The course, located 40 minutes from the city, will offer a private golf and country club within an exclusive residential community. The Tuwaiq Mountains will frame the golf course.
In Riyadh, you may wish to join a golf group, and the most famous is the British Golf Society. Their current President is Donal Hutchinson, and you can reach them on the following email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So if you are coming to Saudi, pack those clubs because there is a lot to get involved in within the golf scene, and KSA players play all year round.