Golf Saudi’s ‘Ladies First Club’ has taken the Kingdom by storm since being unveiled at last year’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund.
The initiative far exceeded expectation after more than 1,000 Saudi women and girls signed up to learn golf the weekend of last year’s tournament, with the first of its kind programme offering a complimentary membership inclusive of golf lessons, driving range access and full 18-hole rounds on three different courses.
To put that number into context, the Kingdom had fewer than 20 registered female golfers before the ground-breaking tournament at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, King Abdullah Economic City.
“I’m very happy with what’s happening with the golf community,” said Sara Salhab, Ladies First Club member and Saudi National Team player. “Golf Saudi has done a great job with pushing golf for Saudis, especially women.
“With the Ladies First Club there’s a big opportunity for anyone to come and play golf, and they’re providing the training and the courses, so now is really the opportunity to play golf.
“I’ve taken a few lessons with the Ladies First Club, and then I continued with the Ladies First coach, Grant - he’s a very good coach. I’ve also met a lot of women through the club and everybody’s very excited to play.”
A year on from launching, players from the Ladies First Club have been invited to this year’s Women in Sport Season, which includes both the Aramco Saudi Ladies International and the Aramco Team Series – Jeddah, to get up and close and personal with some of the game’s greatest stars.
The likes of Alison Lee, who won on the Aramco Team Series in Sotogrande, and Emily Kristine Pedersen, who won all three titles in Saudi last year, have hosted a number of golf clinics for Saudi women throughout the week, while six of the Ladies First Club took part in the Pro-Am.
“It’s very special to have these events in Saudi,” added Salhab. “First of all, a tournament like this that’s happening here is very big. We’re seeing international players play here and we’re able to interact with them and see how they play.
“It’s very interesting and you learn a lot through just watching the international players play. Having a tournament like the Aramco Team Series, one of the first in the world, is so nice to have in our own country.”
The upcoming Aramco Team Series event is certainly the first event of its kind on any professional tour. Using a unique draft system, team captains will pick one pro teammate, before being allocated a third via a random draw, while each team will also be assigned one amateur golfer.
In the team competition itself, it is a ‘two-from-four’ format which sees the best two scores on each hole taken forward for the team. Each professional will also complete every hole and the score will be used for the individual competition. As a result of the format, it will mean that the amateur will contribute to the result of the team and could have a chance of holing the winning putt.
One of the amateurs taking part in KAEC will be none other than Salhab.
“I’m very excited, but also a bit nervous – I’m not going to lie,” she said “But I’m excited to learn. I’m excited to see how the professionals play and see how they approach each shot. Their technique, their routine. I’m sure I’ll learn through that. I hope I’ll play well.”
With the wide-range of opportunities that Salhab and her peers have been given by Golf Saudi in such a short space of time, the 28-year-old had a message for any women looking to get into golf in the Kingdom.
“I’d tell them to come and try out golf,” she said “To see how it feels to hit a shot. It requires a lot of patience, but once they hit that good shot, they are going to be addicted. So, just come and try and see for yourself.
“They’ll also be meeting a big community. So if they want to feel a part of a community, let them come to the Ladies First Club and just join the fun.”
Saudi’s ambitious plans to build on grassroots golf off the back of the Ladies European Tour events, along with the men’s Saudi International, which will be an Asian Tour event next year, are certainly heading in the right direction.
Maha Haddioui, the first and only Arabic golfer to play on the LET, recently told us that there will be more female Arab golfers on Tour soon. With initiatives such as the Ladies First Club, it could be a lot sooner than we think.