The golf war in the Arabian Peninsula

Bryson DeChambeau swings at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia on February 3.


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The so-called Gulf Rift between Qatar and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council ended earlier this year. But the monarchies that belong to the council compete as much as they collaborate. For the two most populous members, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this competition is played in golf.

The UAE has long been the leading golfing destination in the Middle East, but Saudi Arabia is gaining momentum. Although few Arabs play, the Emirates have 21 courses, including eight of the region’s top 10, according to Golf Digest. This year’s European tour, renamed the “DP World Tour” and sponsored by Dubai Ports World, will host four male professional events in the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, as part of Riyadh’s ambitious Vision 2030 project to diversify its economy, reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and create jobs, the kingdom has announced plans to become a regional golf destination. The initiative, led by Yasir al Rumyyan, who heads the country’s $ 500 billion sovereign wealth fund and the Saudi Golf Federation, plans to more than double the kingdom’s courses from six to 13 over the next decade. , including courses designed by Jack Nicklaus. and Nick Faldo.

From February 3-6, Riyadh will host the Saudi International Golf Tournament, a new Asian tour event set to be led by 25 PGA Tour superstars, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, drawn by a purse of 5 millions of dollars and, apparently, substantial court fees. This event will compete with the new UAE tour event, the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, offering $ 2 million in prizes.

With four of the top 10 players in attendance, the Saudi tournament will be a must-see television for golf fans. And there is more to come. The Saudis recently invested $ 200 million in the Asian Tour and signed a 10-year partnership with the organization in a bid to challenge the UAE and the dominance of the PGA Tour. The lucrative Saudi tour events will continue to attract top talent – and more international duffers – likely at the expense of the Emirates.

Riyadh’s approach to golf echoes another of the kingdom’s goals: poaching the UAE headquarters. expatriates.

Saudi-UAE economic competition is likely to intensify. As Abu Dhabi takes a substantial lead, Riyadh seems ready to file a complaint.

While critics call the Saudi effort a “sports wash”, neither Abu Dhabi nor Riyadh has any human rights bragging rights. In any case, the diversification of the oil-dependent Gulf economies is an objective good. The nascent golf rivalry between Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is increasingly common. Provided the rivalry does not spill over and cause oil prices to rise, onlookers and policymakers in Washington should sit down and enjoy the game.

Mr. Schenker is a senior researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in 2019-21.

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