Saudi Arabia to host first pro golf tournament

The Royal Greens Golf Club at the King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy: KAEC website)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi Arabia to host first pro golf tournament

PARIS: Saudi Arabia will stage its first European Tour golf event in 2019 as the kingdom opens its doors a little more to professional sport, it was announced on Thursday.
The tournament, the first in a three-year partnership, will take place from January 31 to February 3, 2019, and will be staged at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea coastline.
Plans were finalized this week during the visit to London of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the man seen as the oil-rich country’s key driver of reform.
“We are very excited to be talking the first steps toward bringing professional golf to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the first time and I must thank His Royal Majesty, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud for his vision in making this happen,” said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.
The new Saudi tournament will form part of the early season Gulf desert swing which already includes tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Oman.
“I hope that this event will inspire more Saudis to take up the game and show that, as a nation, we can host sporting events of this calibre,” said Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, the president of the Saudi Arabian Golf Federation.
Saudi Arabia has witnessed a number of steps forward in sports organization this year with a first-ever professional women’s squash tournament staged in Riyadh and women allowed into stadiums to watch local league football matches.


OUR MOLE IN MOSCOW: World Cup diaries

Updated 19 June 2018
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OUR MOLE IN MOSCOW: World Cup diaries

 

Read the latest of Gary Meenaghan’s Russian Dispatches, a regular blog where he will share observations, triumphs, failures and, most likely, stories of getting lost on long-distance trains during the month-long 2018 World Cup.

ST PETERSBURG: The dateline of this blog may read St Petersburg, but I might actually be closer to Moscow. A more exact dateline would probably be ‘IN TRANSIT’. 

Since the World Cup kicked off, I’ve yet to sleep in a bed. And have no plans to do so again until at least tomorrow night. While Russia is a gargantuan country, one of the most praiseworthy elements of its World Cup so far is the free travel provided by the host country. Month-long tournaments can be expensive affairs for the hordes of travelling fans, many of whom save for years to make the pilgrimage. 

In Brazil four years ago, where domestic flights were essential, I ended up boarding 29 planes in 28 days. It was hectic and hassle and highly time-consuming, but it was the only way to attend the games I needed to attend. Many fans hoping to follow their team throughout instead chose to base themselves in one city to save the expense of much-inflated flight prices. 

Here in Russia, it’s a different story. Not only do matchday ticket-holders enjoy free travel on the local metro, tram and bus systems, but they can also enjoy free train travel between host cities. I’ve been shuttling up and down the 215km track between Moscow and St Petersburg these past couple of nights, but will tonight head south, making the 1000km trip to Rostov-on-Don, where Saudi Arabia will play their second group game against Uruguay. 

While train travel provides a cheaper alternative to flying, it can obviously mean long, long journeys. My train from Volgograd to Moscow next month will take 24.5 hours, but with bunkbeds and wifi and a cafe serving hot food, for those without Russian dispatches to write, the train offers a perfect setting to relax and zone out for a few hours, complete with postcard views out the window.

With the small compartments sleeping four to a cabin, there is also a great chance to meet other people enjoying a World Cup adventure. On Thursday night, I shared a cabin with a 60-year-old Nicaraguan woman who said she is travelling alone and has tickets for four games. A resident of Tampa, in Florida, she was on route to St Petersburg to watch Iran versus Morocco.. 

“I don’t really understand the rules,” she said. “But I just love the atmosphere.”

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MOSCOW: If love conquers all, language must surely threaten to do the opposite: it can ruin the best laid plans, get you in unnecessary trouble, and — in Russia at least — almost always results in you heading the wrong way on public transport.

Brazil 2014 posed problems for non-Portuguese speakers, but at least some of the words appeared similar: Maracana is Maracanã, taxi is still taxi, hotel is hotel. Here, the words appear in Cyrillic, so ‘STOP’ looks more like ‘CTON’. With some of the letters the same, it lures you into a false sense of security; ou think you can transliterate and understand more than you do. 

A veteran World Cup goer who I was speaking to the other day said this summer is proving more difficult than the 2002 tournament in Japan and Korea. At least there, you knew you had no idea what anything said so were always on guard. Here, if not careful, you can become complacent in your orienteering and end up totally lost — and with nobody to ask for help.

Another issue is that many Russian landmarks seem to have various different names. When I reserved a train ticket through FIFA’s free ride programme, the departure station in Moscow was marked as Passazhirskaya Station. When the official ticket arrived in my inbox, the point of departure was marked as Oktiabrskaia Station. 

I went with the name on the ticket and found Oktiabrskaia station easy enough through Google Maps. On arrival, however, I quickly discovered there is no railway there, only a metro — and it certainly did not go as far as Saint Petersburg. I searched again, this time for Passazhirskaya only to find it is located on the other side of the city. 

A random online forum cleared up the confusion: “Oktiabrskaia also goes by the names Passazhirskaya and Kazansky and Yaroslavsky . However, it most commonly known as Leningradsky Station…” 

Yup, cleared up.

With my departure time fast approaching, the metro was no longer an option so I tried calling an Uber, which redirected me to the Russian equivalent Gett. With the geolocation on my phone playing up in Russia (for some unknown reason) the taxi did not know where to pick me up. After a few frustrating conversations with random people on the street, I eventually sussed out my location and ‘got a Gett’. 

The Google Maps issue was an example of how phone apps can’t be relied on as they are at home. Another? Saturday’s match between Argentina and Iceland in Moscow was held at Spartak Stadium. If you, however, entered “Spartak Stadium” into Google Maps to calculate the quickest way to get there, it would direct you towards Spartak Stadium in northeastern Moscow. Instead, to reach the game, you needed to enter Otkritie Arena, which would then provide directions to the newly-rebranded Spartak Stadium, situated in northwestern Mocow. “Uma confusão”, as they would say in Brazil. 

It has only been a few days since the opening match, but the fact I have yet to miss a train or game is amazing. Now I am on a 20-hour train from Moscow to Rostov-on-Don, which is 1,300km away from Rostov — which naturally is the destination that was marked on my ticket.

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MOSCOW: If, as the saying goes, time moves slowly in a Russian winter, it moves at the speed of a Maglev train the week before a World Cup. It is seven days since I touched down in Moscow, yet it feels more like one very long, sleep-deprived 24-hours. Perhaps it is because the sun sets after 9pm and the sky is white again before 4am. Or maybe it is because with more than 2,000 international media having descended on the country, there is news breaking with all the regularity of a drummer in an Arabic marching band.

This is the third World Cup I have had the privilege to cover and the thrill never wears off. Not only because it is elite international football in a country that is rolling out its red carpet for visitors, but there are few, if any, events in the world that bring together so many nationalities.

Outside the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the first match between Saudi Arabia and Russia, you could walk for five minutes and pass swarms of fans from Mexico and Haiti, Peru and Ethiopia, Brazil and Nicaragua. There were fake sheikhs, Lionel Messi doppelgängers and a man dressed as Father Christmas. There was a gargantuan African head-to-toe in red, white and blue body-paint.

Yet it is not necessarily always the fun-filled, five-week festival your friends and family tend to think. It can be a highly pressurised environment with a lot of stress and sleepless nights. Especially when, on the eve of the opening game, in a taxi on the way to the FIFA Congress, with news filtering through that Spain’s Julen Lopetegui was about to be fired and a decision on who would win hosting rights for the 2016 World Cup just hours away ... the motherboard of my laptop decided to explode. 

The timing could not have been worse. No computer means lost articles means frustrated bosses means no future assignments means a potential early flight home. With five weeks of features lined up and a travel itinerary that involves changing cities every other day, I feared the worst. 

Fortunately, I found a small shop in Moscow with staff that speak good English. Not only will they replace the motherboard, they have given me a spare laptop — fitted with my own hard-drive — to use for the few days it will take for the motherboard to arrive. They have been an absolute Godsend without whom I’d have been totally lost. Instead now I am just lost on the Moscow Metro, but that is for another day…