Saudi International: A Positive or Negative for Golf?

It is the event that has divided the golfing world over the past two seasons but again in 2020, some of the world’s top players are teeing it up in Saudi Arabia as part of the new Saudi International event on the European Tour.

In a bid to grow the game of golf and reach every corner of the globe, the European Tour sanctioned event expanded in 2019 to bring us the Saudi International, the first-ever tournament to Saudi Arabia. With golf continuing to spread across the world, Saudi Arabia was one area that had not experienced professional men’s golf on the European Tour.

However, the event was met with a host of criticism and backlash in its inaugural edition at the beginning of 2019 and has carried over to this year’s tournament also.

Held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, the Saudi International is described as a “week-long party,” full of entertainment and events. The organizers splashed out not only on appearance fees to attract the world’s best golfers, but also renowned musical artists and DJ’s to continue the party well into the night for spectators.

In terms of the actual golfing event, there is no shortage of fireworks on the course either.

Big names like defending champion Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia are all teeing it up currently in the tournament with 10 major champions gracing the fairways in Saudi Arabia this week. Their budget clearly was not an issue, splashing out big money in appearance fees to help get the event up and running.

The main goal of the event is to continue the globalization of golf, reaching out to parts of the world that perhaps have never experienced Professional golf. With that aim in mind, golfers are out there this week to do their jobs and help expand the game.

But despite this, players still cop backlash from critics and media for making the trip to the Middle East.

During the first running of the event in 2019, players such as Justin Rose were heavily criticized for supporting the event amidst certain political tensions and conflicts. The tournament was held shortly after the murder of Washington Post Journalist, Jamal Khashoggi which the CIA believed was carried out by Saudi Officials.

There has also been further backlash declaring that golfers are supporting the country and its regime rule.

Freedom House rates Saudi Arabia’s regime as “one of the worst in the world for restricting freedom, political rights and civil liberties,” leading many fans to see this event as a political issue rather than a golfing spectacle. This has been a major reason why criticism has been so harsh on many of the top golfers and why this tournament has been met with condemnation.

But these golfers are just that: They are golfers, not politicians.

The point of this event is to continue the globalization of golf and expand this great game to more people across the world. These players are simply trying to help that and assist in the expansion of this event in Saudi Arabia during its early years of introduction. None of these golfers said they supported the Saudi regime; they are simply there to put on a show.

UNSPECIFIED, SAUDI ARABIA – JANUARY 30: Henrik Stenson of Sweden plays his second shot on the 9th hole during Day 1 of the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on January 30, 2020 in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods claimed that he was offered over $3 Million to compete in the event in both the 2019 and 2020, choosing to turn it down because of the distance in travel. He still stated that he supports players appearing in the event, backing Phil Mickelson and others with his support to grow the game of golf.

The Saudi International is a great initiative by the European Tour and is nothing more than a bid to expand the game of golf to more parts of the world. It is not a political stand and players are not throwing their support in either direction for the country, they are simply doing their jobs and providing a spectacle for people who have previously been deprived of the opportunity to witness Professional Golf.

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This is a new event that the golfing world can get behind, put politics aside and enjoy a fantastic spectacle that is great for the game of golf.