By Kent Gray
When world No.1 Dustin Johnson is not even the most newsworthy preview subject – hello Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau – this week’s 3rd Saudi International clearly isn’t going to struggle for exposure.
But Golf Saudi were never going to rest on the laurels of a $3.5 million event, nor an impressive gaggle of PGA and European Tour stars alone to globalise their ambitious golf agenda, a central tenet of the Kingdom’s ‘Vision 2030’ socio-economic plan.
Enter stage left Jack Nicklaus. The 18-time major champion was unveiled Tuesday as the designer of a new private course set to break ground 40 minutes south-west of the capital Riyadh by the end of the year.
The championship course, Nicklaus Designs’ first in Saudi, will be part of an exclusive residential community/country club in the Qiddiya megaproject, entertainment, sports and the arts-centric city which began taking shape in 2019.
To be framed by the majestic Tuwaiq mountain range, the course is currently in the design.
“To have the greatest-ever golfer commit to making his mark upon our developing golf landscape in Saudi Arabia and at a project as significant as Qiddiya gives us great pride,” said His Excellency Yasir O. Al-Rumayyan, Chairman of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.
“To be part of the Nicklaus legacy will be something that we will always cherish, especially knowing the positive impact it will have on growing awareness of the sport at a domestic level, whilst increasing our national visibility as a vibrant new golf destination. We are looking forward to welcoming Mr. Nicklaus for his first visit to Saudi Arabia in the coming months.”
Nicklaus played the mutual appreciation game in a media release.
“To be selected as one of the first international designers to work in the Kingdom is a great honour,” Nicklaus said.
“I’ve already spent time looking at the topography of the land, images of the backdrop and terrain, and discussing with our design team a strategy for the course. The design will fully integrate the natural environment and the beautiful Qiddiya landscape, bringing together green spaces and mountainous terrain to form a picturesque canvas for both a beautiful and challenging golf course.”
Construction began on the Qiddiya project in 2019 and the golf development will include a high-end resort hotel and spa, as well as exclusive residences.
The media release said the course would be “constructed to the highest standards with a view to hosting the most prestigious international championships in future years”.
“By being involved in this project, we hope to promote the development and enjoyment of the game in the Kingdom,” Nicklaus said. “We not only want to entice Saudi residents to take up the great game of golf, but we also hope this presents employment opportunities for citizens of the Kingdom that are within or related to the golf industry. This mirrors the vision of Qiddiya.”
The Nicklaus-designed course is the centrepiece of what has been positioned as the most exclusive golf residential community in the Kingdom A second course is set to be added with Qiddiyal “be seeking designers”.
“The underlying philosophy behind this entire development is to introduce a new, active lifestyle to the people of Saudi Arabia,” said Philippe Gas CEO of QIC.
“This project has been carefully planned to ensure an unmatched resort experience for both golfers and regular guests. We expect the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and residential offering to provide the most entertaining challenge for golfers and the most appealing homesteads for residents seeking an extraordinary lifestyle.”