The Middle East is a beautiful place for golf.
At the Saudi Ladies International tournament that started in 2011, one club — at the Hassan Bin Talal Club in Riyadh — welcomed 200 young women.
It was an unprecedented tournament for Saudi women, who were previously only allowed to drive and to attend certain events inside the country.
[It has] given many women a taste of the world of professional golf. The sport has grown so quickly in Saudi Arabia that in less than three years, players from the country have finished on the leaderboard at the Ladies Masters at Augusta.
“I have realized I can play a lot of different things,” said Monah al-Dosari, the 24-year-old captain of the Saudi team at this year’s championships, who tees off in Round 2 today. “Before when I watched golf, I only saw American players. I can say I was really impressed and happy that some Saudi players have played with them. We are all proud.”
The Saudis play almost exclusively off their home course, the Al-Qurayyat, which is a mixture of desert dunes and natural fairways constructed to emulate the American desert course. The Saudi players follow a military-style curriculum designed for military training, with classroom lessons tailored to the sport and used to train volunteers at the club.
Despite playing on a makeshift course, the Saudis have qualified for an off-the-shelf set of clubs. They travel to the Kingdom twice a year for tournaments, a contrast to the amateur course they will play in Shenzhen in November.
This year, given the amount of traffic, it can take two and a half hours from Riyadh to Al-Qurayyat to reach the course. To cope with the rush, the Saudi Golf Association introduced an additional 350 temporary bunkers and 300 wire-cable bunkers in a bid to improve the course.
The experience of the Saudi players who have made it to the European Tour is nothing short of remarkable.
What they take away from the experience is not just the opportunity to make up for lost time, but to understand themselves as players.
“I want to learn to play the game of golf for more than one reason. Playing golf helps me to get information, increase my concentration, focus my mind to be different from other golfers and to use my mind in other areas,” said Al-Dosari.
“After I play golf, I will get a better understanding about myself as a golfer. I got some information about myself, my thoughts and how I control my nerves.”
The British golfer Charley Hull makes an appearance at the Saudi Arabia Ladies Open. (Barham Salih/British PGA)
Al-Dosari has four sisters. Two joined the team at Augusta. Her niece, who she described as talented and passionate, followed in her footsteps at the Women’s British Open at Carnoustie this month.
She is one of a group of players already qualified to play in the US Open this year. The players’ mothers speak with pride of their accomplishments, and ask their daughters how they feel to be “different” from other golfers.
That issue is something the Saudi players confront all the time, including at these events, where they are widely aware that they are facing international scrutiny and scrutiny.
“Before, even watching the TV and listening to people talk, I would be thinking, you know, I am not American, I’m not European, I’m not from China. Sometimes I feel a little bit ashamed. A little bit uncomfortable and shy, because when they say my name, they don’t show my face, but [when] they say the name of a female or from a country, they do show my face,” said Al-Dosari.
“I’m not the first Saudi girl to play golf. But I’m the first Saudi girl to get good results, my face is seen around the world. I’m now known.”