JEDDAH: When Welsh golfer Amy Boulden tees off at the $1m Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by Public Investment Fund at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City on Thursday morning, she will perhaps be more familiar with her surroundings than most of her rivals.
As an ambassador for Golf Saudi, she has visited the course three times in recent years, and appreciates both its challenges and aesthetics.
“The course is beautiful,” Boulden said. “The views are amazing. especially when you get round to the 15th and 16th holes. I’d say the most challenging parts are probably the greens. You’re going to have to be very specific where you’re hitting it.”
Boulden, who joined the Ladies European Tour in 2014, has been to Saudi Arabia on four occasions now and has taken part in initiatives in Jeddah and Riyadh to attract youngsters who until relatively recently could only have dreamed of such opportunities in women’s sports.
“This is my second year (being a Golf Saudi ambassador),” the 27-year-old said.
“It’s been an amazing partnership. We’re trying to promote golf, women’s golf, junior golf. When we come over here we do a lot of clinics. We came over in January for the men’s event, we did a lot of junior women’s clinics which is very cool to get people involved who had never been before.”
The aim is to produce golfers from the region who can compete against the professionals who will be on show this week. Boulden already sees rising interest among young female golfers in the region.
“We saw last week in Dubai local golfers who played as amateurs at the team event,” she said.
“One of them had a lot of potential, I think she was only 16. I definitely see that the more we come to the Middle East and play and showcase women’s golf, the more we can inspire a generation to pick up a golf club and get involved.”
The caliber of players on show this week will no doubt help to increase the popularity of the sport, with the likes of Solheim Cup heroes Georgia Hall and Charley Hull, championship winners Anna Nordqvist and Anne van Dam, and golfing legend Laura Davies all joining a stellar field.
Four-time major-winner Davies will be seeking a remarkable 86th professional title in a career where she has been named Ladies European Tour Order of Merit winner seven-times and has represented Team Europe in 12 Solheim Cups.
“The Aramco Saudi Ladies International will be quite the watershed moment that allows us to bring the sport we love to a whole new audience in a way that I think blazes a trail for women and sportswomen in and out of Saudi Arabia,” Davies said.
“The two events we’ll be playing in Saudi Arabia will be of great support to the women’s game and a morale boost to all the players after a stop-start 2020.”
“We’re taking women’s golf to a new frontier, both in terms of inspiring new women to give the sport a try and in helping expand the Ladies European Tour event calendar, so it’s a tournament I’m really excited to play in — at what looks like a fabulous golf course.”
More than 100 professional golfers will take part in a tournament where the organizers have taken every step to ensure the safety of players and staff alike.
Held within a bio-secure environment, the King Abdullah Economic City “bubbles” will be in place throughout the Saudi Ladies International taking place from Nov. 12-15, as well as $500,000 Saudi Ladies Team International, running from Nov. 17-19.
Across a three-week period, the bubbles will act as home to between 500 and 600 people, and the organizers will conduct more than 1,500 COVID-19 tests, including at least three each for the players, caddies and tournament staff.
Boulden says that the players view no longer see such measures as an inconvenience.
“It’s just the world we’re living in at the moment,” she said.
“Obviously we have to take all the safety precautions, which everybody involved in the tournament understands has to happen for the event to go ahead. I think we’re all used to it now, we’ve been doing this since August.”
Also due to COVID-19 restrictions, no spectators will be present on the course at the two Ladies European Tour events, but golf fans can catch the action via 14 global broadcasters across MENA, Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia, as well as behind-the-scenes content from the tournament’s digital channels.
For Boulden and her rivals, the absence of supporters becomes more pronounced at the end of the competition.
“I think you only really notice it on the final day, down the final stretch,” she said. “There isn’t the added pressure of having people watching, you definitely notice that little bit more. But it doesn’t take anything from the event, we’re all happy to be out here playing.”
No doubt all the new fans, not to mention aspiring players that women’s golf has been picking up along the way, will be watching from their homes, too.