JEDDAH — Sporting history was made in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, as the inaugural Saudi International powered by SBIA teed off at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC).
The first-ever European Tour event in Saudi Arabia has attracted a star-studded line-up of the world’s best players, with four of the world’s top five, eight major championship winners and dozens of crowd favorites among the tournament’s 132-strong player field.
As golf broke new ground in a new destination, the first round of the Saudi International powered by SBIA proved to be a day of historic firsts.
With Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of the Saudi Golf Federation (SGF), playing a ceremonial tee shot to start the tournament, Englishman David Howell had the honor of hitting the first competitive shot of the tournament.
Announced on the first tee at 7.15 a.m. (local time), Howell dispatched a 3-wood more than 260 yards down the middle of the fairway.
“It’s a nice honor, a notable thing,” said Howell. “Who knows what will happen with golf in Saudi Arabia from here, but we have definitely opened the door. I was slightly aware of the situation, so I was probably a little bit more focused, which is a good thing for me — I hit a beautiful shot,” said Howell, who also notched the tournament’s first bogey during an eventual opening round of 72, two-over par.
“The course is looking great, facilities are fantastic. It’s probably a course that requires a bit of wind to challenge the players, but it’s great for the first time here.”
Howell’s playing partner Marcus Kinault, of Sweden, scored the first birdie of the Saudi International powered by SBIA, recording a memorable three on the 361-yard first hole.
Big-hitting New Zealander Ryan Fox then went one better, entering the history books with the first eagle at a European Tour event in Saudi Arabia, a two on the 439-yard 14th hole.
“I’ll take that!” said Fox, whose landmark eagle helped him to a three-under par round of 67. “I had the perfect number for a gap wedge, about 129 yards, just out of the first cut of rough on the left and it was an inviting pin to go. I hit a really good shot, I didn’t see it finish, but there was a couple of caddies walking the course outside the ropes and they cheered so I knew it must have been close.”
Elsewhere, Joachim B Hansen literally inked his name into the annuls of Saudi sporting history by handing in the first signed scorecard at the Saudi International powered by SBIA. The Dane finished his round three-under par after a solid three-under par 67 featuring seven birdies and four bogeys.
“That’s something nice for me. It’s great to experience somewhere new and it’s good to get the first round done. The course was great, we had really good conditions and I hope we keep coming back here,” said the 28-year-old.
Saud Al Sharif made a little slice of homegrown history when the young amateur became the first golfer from Saudi Arabia to complete 18 holes in a European Tour event in Saudi Arabia.
Sharif, who recorded a nine-over par 79 in his first round in a professional event, said: “It was amazing, I couldn’t have asked for a better tournament to play in. I was very nervous on the first tee. Unfortunately I didn’t play very well, but it was still a great experience for me. I hope I can play way better tomorrow.”
Later in the day, Othman Almulla became the first Saudi Arabian professional to complete a tournament round in a European Tour event. — SG
Source : Saudi Gazette