JEDDAH: Reigning and former British Open champions Anna Nordqvist and Georgia Hall have described this week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by Public Investment Fund as “one of the headline events” in women’s golf as they prepare to tee off in what will be the first Ladies European Tour event to feature three Arab golfers.
Moroccan pair Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati will make their professional LET debuts when the $1 million tournament gets underway on Thursday, joining countrywoman and 10-season tour stalwart Maha Haddioui in the strongest-ever Arab representation in any LET field.
Nordqvist believes that diversity is one of the reasons the tour continues to grow and attract many of the biggest names in women’s golf.
The Swedish professional and Hall will go head-to-head against Spaniard Carlota Ciganda, Bronte Law of England, and Emily Kristine Pedersen of Denmark in the Aramco Saudi Ladies International’s third annual hosting, which comes just four months after its last.
Nordqvist said: “I think that’s what’s so great about the Ladies European Tour. There are players from all over the world — some girls from Australia and you even see players coming over from the US to compete. And playing all over the world, too. Playing Saudi, Dubai, and we were just in Kenya a couple of weeks ago, then we are going to South Africa, then Thailand.
“The Ladies European Tour is a place where a lot of people feel like home, and it’s a very friendly atmosphere. That’s why I enjoy coming back and playing on the tour because I like the atmosphere.”
The Aramco Saudi Ladies International is the first of six Golf Saudi-backed tournaments on the LET calendar for 2022, with the other five being individual $1 million prize-fund Aramco Team Series events to be hosted around the world, including New York and London.
That investment has helped the LET offer a record prize purse of almost $30 million for its 2022 season, more than double the 2019 figure.
Hall described the backing as “fantastic,” and added: “It’s definitely what the LET needs and it wasn’t like that when I was on the LET five, six years ago. I’m really happy for the girls. That’s why you get LPGA players coming over, because they want to compete in these events and play on this tour.”
The 25-year-old said: “I think the Aramco Saudi Ladies International is one of the headline events for the LET, and rightly so. The setup is really good. We get looked after incredibly well. We just really enjoy coming here. That’s why we keep coming back.”
World No. 25 Hall is one of the tournament favorites heading into Thursday, having lost out in a playoff to Solheim Cup teammate Emily Kristine Pedersen in the inaugural staging of the event in 2020, and again to Lydia Ko last November.
“I played not too badly the last couple of individual events here,” Hall said. “I really enjoy the golf course. The wind can get up quite a lot, which I don’t mind. I feel quite comfortable playing in the wind. I like moving the golf ball around, hitting low shots.”
She added: “I’ve been out there this morning, and the course is in good condition again and the greens not too fast, so I think they’ll be able to hold when you hit it on.”
Nordqvist echoed Hall’s comments. “I love coming here,” she said. “This is my third time now. We’ve had quite a few rounds around this track and this is probably as good as I’ve ever seen this golf course. It’s quite lush out there.
“This wind is as powerful as I’ve ever seen it. It’s going to definitely be a challenge. Usually when (the tournament) is played in November, you’ve had quite a few months of tournament play behind you and maybe have a little more awareness where the ball is going, so I think it’s going to add an extra challenge this year, just feeling a bit rusty in tournament play.”
Morocco’s Maha Haddioui has long carried the flag as the sole Arab player on the Ladies European Tour.
However, that changes this week with the arrival of two fellow Moroccans as full time LET professionals: Ines Laklalech and Lina Belmati, both of whom make their debuts in Saudi Arabia.
Haddioui was a key figure in the launch of the debut Aramco Saudi Ladies International in 2020, with the tournament prompting 1,200 Saudi women and girls to sign up to learn golf across the event’s four days
She believes similar events are essential to driving that continued growth of the game on a global scale.
The 33-year-old said: “As a professional golfer, we travel the world, and the LET is there to inspire the people of the countries we go to to take up the game and to look at golf as something they could take on or a sport they could play.
“For me, three years ago, I didn’t think I’d be sitting here with two Moroccan other professionals and playing this event. I think it’s a great thing. It’s really small steps that make things like this happen — having tournaments and opportunities to play in events like these,” she said.
“Seeing there are three Moroccan girls playing in it will inspire Tunisian girls, for example, or girls from other places in the Arab world, to say, ‘Well, three of them made it, so I’m sure I can make it, too.”