What led the country's authorities to decisively promote the sport of golf in Saudi Arabia?
The vision of our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and His Excellency Mr. Yasir O. Al-Rumayyan has been unparalleled. Under the Vision 2030 the development of sports is a priority. I asked His Excellency to create a n independent company, but on still owned by the Saudi Golf Federation where we can actually adopt our own bylaws and initiatives. The legwork started in 2018 when we wanted to host the Saudi International for the first time. It started from an idea to promote the kingdom's tourism and to promote the kingdom as a whole from a business perspective. I am proud to say it is possibly the first international initiative that took place, and it was really from that point on that all the international initiatives in terms of sport started to roll in. After that, we had Formula E, and now we are working on Formula One and have boxing, too, so we have started to attract all the different dimensions of sport. We hosted the first live concert, and it was under our initiative again before we moved it to GEA.
How many people would you like to participate in golf between now and 2030?
The question was asked to me by His Excellency during a conversation that if today is 2030 what I would like to have accomplished, and for me mass participation is the key. I would like to develop at least 20,000 new jobs. We have created about 150 new jobs in the kingdom that never existed before. Some of them include a grass green keeper, caddy master, pro-shop clerk, pro-shop assistant, and general manager of a club house, none of which existed before in the economy of Saudi Arabia. The second thing was ensuring equality and equity between our women and men. The question was asked to His Excellency do you think one point in time that the Kingdom is going to allow women to compete in golf with other women and his answer was really simple, he said a woman can actually compete as a Saudi if she is a citizen of Saudi Arabia. For us, men and women in the Kingdom will be treated equally. If you look at what we are doing now we have taken what we call the ATS which is the Aramco Team Series to multiple cities; London, New York, then Jeddah and Singapore.
With Saudi Arabia recently hosting the Ladies European Tour do you plan to continue in this line of attracting major international professional golf events?
Yes, this is a five-year initiative that started last year. The tour has lost multiple tournaments lately, so we wanted to extend our help by hosting back-to-back tournaments for them called the Ladies Saudi International. The Aramco Team Series is a very new concept where women play with an amateur whereby we have three professionals with the amateur able to contribute to the overall team win. It became one of the most sought after tournaments, especially after we took it to London when the rest of the world took interest. Everyone is enjoying it so far and that is just one simple initiative among many initiatives.
How are you ensuring the next generation of sport people in Saudi Arabia?
First of all, what we wanted to do is just see what it is that the economy needs, and if we open a golf course tomorrow what would be required. We went to the schools and signed an MoU with Aramco, the Ministry of Education, and universities. We are l-keen to identify young talent in Saudi Arabia especially those who graduate with a background of engineering, and interior or exterior design. We developed a curriculum to graduate students either as an agronomist or green keeper, a pro-shop handler or an assistant club manager. In this manner the sport of golf becomes familiar to the individual throughout their formal education whereby those interested can pursue the goal of becoming a professional with specialization in their own field. We also put together the Ladies First Club. In the Ladies First Club, we aimed to give the first 1,000 people to register free membership and training, and in the first week we had 5,000 women register. Then comes the building of the infrastructure, where we have been working with the academies such as Claude Harmon III and Ernie Els Academy to build multiple academies where players can perfect their game. When it comes to sustainability, we have combined three organizations, which had never been done before, and which has impressed the UN. There is a company called Atlas Turf specialized in growing seeds that suit different conditions. SATIR is a company that funds water and soil initiatives to promote efficient seed planting. And finally, there is the Geographical and Environmental Organization (GEO). We signed an MoU and are the anchor of that MoU enabling them work in unison. That gave us a very controlled sustainable amount of water for the ideal irrigation of soil to grow seeds for diverse environments.
What are your immediate goals for the rest of 2021 and 2022?
In the long term, Saudi Arabia is going to be a global destination for golf and indeed wider tourism. I am only a small part of a huge body of work that the kingdom has been leading under the vision of the Crown Prince's Vision 2030. Our goal is to eventually become a prominent force in the worldwide golfing universe, and that is what I am trying to accomplish.