Women's golf will make its way to Saudi Arabia in 2020.
A year after the European Tour debuted the Saudi International to the sport, the Ladies European Tour announced on Thursday the creation of a 72-hole event to be held in March. The tournament will feature a $1 million purse, one of the highest payouts on the LET, and mark the first time a female professional golf event is hosted in the country.
“I’m incredibly excited by this announcement and it is an honor for the Tour to be part of history in bringing the first-ever professional women’s golf event to Saudi Arabia,” LET CEO Alexandra Armas said in a statement. “Confirmation of adding Saudi Arabia to our schedule for 2020 is an exciting prospect… and having seen the quality of the event staging for the Saudi International, I am sure this will be a fantastic experience for our players.”
Saudi Arabia is known as one of the most gender-segregated nations in the world. The country has made progress in recent years towards women's rights—earlier this month Saudi Arabia announced it was ending entrances to restaurants segregated by sex and families, and lifted a ban on women driving last year—but women still require male guardianship for most decisions in a female's life.
Moreover, questions remain over the Jamal Khashoggi affair. Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who lived in Virginia and was a critic of the Saudi government, was brutally assassinated at the country's ministry in Istanbul in October 2018. Khashoggi's murder has put other Saudi Arabia human-rights issues into light, which placed the European Tour and players committed to the Saudi International in a precarious position.
The LET and its players, however, seem undaunted by the optics at hand.
“I’m looking forward to being part of history with the other ladies on the tour and of course to competing over the Royal Greens course,” said Carly Booth, the tournament ambassador, in a statement. “I have visited Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions and been lucky enough to spend some time teaching local women and girls how to play; they have been so enthusiastic and I am sure that seeing professional golfers compete in their country will inspire them to take up the game and strive for their dreams.”
The announcement comes weeks after the LET and LPGA announced a new joint venture to help stabilize and revitalize the LET. The European outfit had been on the brink of financial ruin, struggling to keep its talent in the face of dwindling sponsorship opportunities.