JEDDAH: Young Moroccan golfer Ines Laklalech is counting down to what promises to be a “special” professional debut when she becomes only the second Arab woman ever to compete as a full member on the Ladies European Tour at this week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International, presented by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.
The 24-year-old player from Casablanca earned her 2022 tour card in December, despite managing just 15 amateur tournaments in a pandemic-hit two-year spell as she sought to secure her place at women’s golf’s top table.
Now she has achieved that dream, sport-obsessed Laklalech is ready to make her mark in what will be her maiden event as a full professional at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, near Jeddah.
She will seek to finish as high up the leaderboard as possible and also inspire the next generation of Arab girls across the world who she believes – like her – have greater opportunity than ever before to chase their own ambitions.
Laklalech, who has a bachelor’s degree in management science from University College London, said: “I’m so happy to be playing the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF this week. I didn’t play in Kenya (the LET’s first event of 2022) so it’s my first tournament of the season.
“The Saudi Ladies International was actually the first LET event I played as an amateur back in 2020 – and I made the cut. So this will be my second LET tournament, in the same place as the first, but this time as a professional.
“In 2020 it was a great, great tournament and experience. I loved it – particularly because it was in an Arab country, which to me made it even more special. This time I know what to expect a little more, and I’m very, very excited to play. The course is great, the windy conditions mean things can get very interesting and tough out there, so I’m excited.”
The debut Aramco Saudi Ladies International back in 2020 was a landmark moment for women’s sport within the Kingdom as it became the first ever professional, international women’s sporting event to be held in Saudi Arabia.
More than 1,000 Saudi women and girls signed up to learn to play golf over the course of the tournament weekend as part of a free coaching initiative.
And, as a female Arab golfer, Laklalech was aware of the tournament’s impact.
“For me, high-level golf always happened in the US and Europe. Now we’re seeing such a strong field of players in both the men’s and women’s events in Saudi Arabia. I would never have thought of competitive golf being played in Saudi Arabia before, especially a women’s event, knowing how things had been restricted in the past. To see this now though is so good for the future of golf and for all women in the Arab world.
“The Saudi Ladies International shows Arab women that if they want to make a living out of their passion – be that in sport or anything else – they can, just as much as a man would. It shows that women can play competitive sports no matter what their background and no matter where they’re from.”
It will be her third trip to the Kingdom, as she made the pilgrimage to Makkah with her family in 2011.
Thriving in the unfamiliar is something the Moroccan is used to though, having first lifted a golf club aged 10 in one of the few places in Casablanca “with a green field and lots of trees,” and quickly going on to join and then beat the boys’ club – of which she was one of only two girl members – at her local course, aged only 12.
In her drive to make it to the Ladies European Tour, however, she has always had one shining light to look up to: The tour’s first ever Arab player, fellow Moroccan and Saudi fan favorite Maha Haddioui.
They – plus fellow Moroccan youngster Lina Belmati – will all compete in Saudi Arabia this week.
She said: “If you told me I’d be a professional golfer one day, I would’ve said ‘No way,’ because there wasn’t a lot of women playing the sport in Morocco.
“What Maha has done though was incredible for me, as the first Arab woman to ever make it to this level. Having someone from your country make it to the top makes the dream feel more real, as you can identify yourself more easily with that person. She has and continues to play an important and very inspiring role for Arab women and the people of Morocco, and now that I’m the second Arab woman on tour, hopefully there will be more after us.”
She will go up against Haddioui plus a “who’s who” of many of the world’s best golfers, including the likes of Georgia Hall, Emily Kristine Pedersen and Anne van Dam. However, she goes into the event without fear.
“I’m excited to see what the next years hold for me. Anything new is exciting, and this elite golf is all new to me. My goals for this week and for the whole season are just to keep on learning every single day, and take as much experience as I can. I’m expecting a lot of highs and lows and I just want to enjoy every part. I’ll just aim to do my best every single shot and have no regrets.”