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Eye of Riyadh
Eye of Riyadh
Sports | Monday 27 January, 2020 4:20 am |
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“My dream is to become Saudi’s first female golf professional”:

 It’s not every day you’re invited to represent your country in international sporting competition.

And that proved to be the case for the AlTelmissani family of King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), because three of them – mum Raghdah AlEssawi and children Layla, 16, and Omar, 11 – received the call to do just that on the very same day!

The talented trio were all part of the Saudi Golf Federation national team sent to compete at the Pan Arabia Golf Championship in Egypt earlier last year – an honour particularly notable as it made the mother-and-daughter pair the first Saudi women to ever compete on behalf of the Kingdom in an international golf tournament.

“I really feel so proud that Layla and I were two of the first women to represent Saudi internationally at golf,” said Raghdah, a schoolteacher who only started playing golf at KAEC’s Royal Greens Golf & Country Club – the host course for next weekend’s Saudi International – a year ago.

“At this moment in time there’s not many people, especially ladies, who play golf or even try playing golf in Saudi. But it is such an easy sport to get hooked on. It’s a great family activity and it really does have no age – anyone can start playing golf. 

“Egypt was our very first competition. Omar played in the Saudi under-13 team, while Layla and I played in Saudi’s first ever Ladies’ Team. We were still so new to the game at that point, but it was a great experience, with everyone so supportive and people proud of us representing Saudi at that level.

“I can only see a very bright future for golf here in the Kingdom, and I hope people get motivated to give it a try by seeing these types of opportunities that come through golf.”

Under the grand ambitions of Vision 2030, Golf Saudi – the sport’s governing body – is looking to drive one million Saudis to try golf for the first time over the next ten years. The aim is to grow the game on such a vast scale that by 2030, 50% of the population will have access to golf facilities within an hour’s drive of their home.

Immensely popular on a global scale, golf is considered a strong platform for the Kingdom to promote its sporting vision, ambition and its many social and economic opportunities – all of which will be showcased in earnest next weekend when the $3.5million-prize purse Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers brings the world’s best golfers back to compete in the tournament’s second annual edition.

But to the AlTelmissani’s, golf is about something far simpler: the enjoyment that comes from playing the game.

Husband and father Mohammed AlTelmissani said: “For me, what I love about golf is just the time it gives me to spend with my family. We are out on the golf course, mobile phones are away, and it’s just great time together. We talk and have fun. That quality, family time is the major attraction to me. On top of that, it’s played in a beautiful location and is an enjoyable challenge.

“The kids love sports – with Layla very good at basketball, badminton, gymnastics and volleyball. We thought golf would be a good next thing for them to try. After our initial coaching, we were all hooked, and the kids started to play almost every day. Now, when we jokingly say to them ‘No more golf for today’, they beg us to keep playing! They really love it.”

Mohammed continued: “We see huge potential in this game in Saudi Arabia right now. The government is taking care of it and it is part of Vision 2030 – the Crown Prince is taking good care of all sports in all aspects.

“Golf really is absolutely new here. Even when I try and describe it to friends or say I’m going out to play golf, they confuse it with other sports – mimicking the action of grass bowls, for example. That shows the little level of understanding and awareness there is for the game here. 

“But I can only see that changing and golf growing here. Over the last year, we have seen so many new people travelling from across the Kingdom to come and play here in KAEC. Now, we see many of those people here regularly. That is a very good and clear indication that the sport of golf is starting to get into our culture. A golf community exists here, and there’s a lot of motivation in that.

“There are some really great players here in Saudi Arabia now. I’m very excited to see where golf could take Layla, Omar and my wife in the coming years.”

For daughter Layla, her goal in the game is already crystal clear.

“My dream is to become the first Saudi woman professional,” said the 16-year-old, who last week was inches away from a hole-in-one on Royal Greens’ most famous hole, the par three 16th – where tournament champion Dustin Johnson landed in the water in his final round last year.

“Golf is very stress relieving. Being out on the course takes you to this whole different environment, and I like that.

“I’ve been playing golf for around a year now. I play a lot of other sports, and golf was a suggestion my mum made as something else I could try. So I did, and ended up liking it.

“It gives you a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. I am happy when I’m out on the course playing – I love it. Of all the sports I play, golf is my favourite, definitely.”

For young brother Omar, it’s all about trying to hit the ball as far as he possibly can. 

“Golf is really fun to play,” he said. “It’s exciting hitting a good shot.”

The family are an example of a growing number of families who both are and will be backed by Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation to take to the course. Mass participation is one of the key pillars for growing the game in the Kingdom, with Golf Saudi aiming to introduce and educate as many Saudis as possible to golf.

HRH Prince Khaled AlFaisal from both Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation said: “It has been a real pleasure for us seeing how Mohammed, Raghdah, Layla and Omar have all taken to the game of golf. They are a joy to have around the clubhouse at Royal Greens and are really developing as players.

“There is so much joy to be had from playing this great game, and we see it as having a tremendously bright future across the Kingdom. At Golf Saudi we are committed to the five pillars we consider central to growing golf in Saudi Arabia: developing access and infrastructure, nurturing talent through golf academies, promoting mass participation, hosting world class events and bringing international players of all abilities here as a means of golf tourism.

“We are early in this journey, but just like the AlTelmissani family – our opportunities in this sport are endless.”

Next on the family’s calendar is a visit to the second Saudi International, taking place January 30th through February 2nd.

With less than two weeks until the tournament begins, visitors are being advised to start planning their trip to what promises to be ‘The Ultimate Day Out’.

A total 132 players will descend on the stunning King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf & Country Club at the end of the month, where ticketholders can watch them live across the golf course. There will also be an action-packed Entertainment Zone packed with foodtrucks, E-Sports gaming and fun for children of all ages. 

Post-golf concerts will see Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, Belgian born DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Grammy Award–winning DJ Zedd, flamenco favourites the Gipsy Kings and Puerto Rican music sensation Luis Fonsi – the man behind global megahit ‘Despacito’ – all take to the stage across tournament weekend.

Partner support as the tournament heads into its second year remains as strong as ever, with SoftBank Investment Advisers, Saudi Aramco, Public Investment Fund, Saudia, SAMBA, Rolex, Saddik & Mohamed Attar, GIB, STC, Saudi Cargo, UMA Premium, Invest Saudi, Xerox, Mix FM, Al Arabiya, Nespresso and Evian all powering the event.

Tickets are now on sale, priced at 50 SAR per day or 160 SAR for a full tournament pass (four days). Exclusive concert tickets will be available soon. 

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