Golf Course Architecture - Issue 60, April 2020

47 have converged on the country vying for a shot at designing one of the premier projects (they are all premier actually). It was evident at the Golf Saudi Summit, which kicked off immediately following the tournament in early February. Gary Player and Greg Norman drew a lot of attention as keynote speakers and graciously sat on panels and mingled with the guests during breaks. As of now, only one designer has been officially awarded a project. Greg Norman’s firm has captured a coveted site in the Wadi Safar, Diriyah Gate giga project. In his words about the site: “I have never designed anything on this scale before, the site is massive, and the cliffs are magnificent. There will not be a lot of blowing up or moving [things] around which fits into my mantra of the ‘least disturbance approach’. Once I walked the site and understood the corridors and the land plan, I was mesmerised by it.” Gary Player had a lot of sensible things to say about introducing golf to new players and he would intend to design here. Building for speed of play was first on his list, citing reasonably sloped greens, fewer bunkers in front of greens, the elimination of difficult forced carries, and room to play. He went on to note that the kingdom has a huge variety of terrain that is ideal for varied and interesting courses. Sea, mountains and dunes offer plenty of opportunities for great routings. Using indigenous plants around the course is high on his list. And in regard to developing new participants, he feels it is key to bring in great teachers and, of course, from the incredibly fit 84-year-old, promote diet and exercise! The ever-eloquent Robert Trent Jones Jr was another headliner who talked about how he uses the principle of harmony and Japanese scroll art, where an artist uses a silhouette of something in the background and places the subject in the foreground, mimicking the shapes. He has some intriguing examples of courses that I have always admired but never, before our conversation, understood the subtlety of the thought behind the design. David Dale of Golfplan was struck by the sensitivity to protecting the environment and that all the projects have brought in experts to identify and plan for a sensitive development. While the desert seems void of life, there is quite a lot to preserve and enhance, and he feels that Golf Saudi is going above and beyond the norms. O’Brien McGarey of Dye Designs thought that the Golf Saudi Summit ticked all the boxes: “The venue and variety of subjects kept our interest to the very last panel presentation.” Cynthia Dye weighed in too, from a few time zones away: “This is an exciting time for golf course design in the Middle East. We are glad to be a part of the discussion. Having a Dye golf course in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would be a complement to the other courses I am designing in the region.” There were also representatives from some of golf’s other marquee designers, including Faldo Design, Els Design, Mickelson Design, and Fry/Straka. Thomas Rubi of Els Design said that in addition to being the first Tour professional to open a tournament course three years ago, this is the fifth trip he’s made to Saudi Arabia, which has clearly created a lot of good will in the process. Mark Adams of Faldo Design is very appreciative, as is Sir Nick, with the sponsorship of his junior event, The Major Champions Invitational presented by Golf Saudi. Considering that just a year ago there were no tourist visas in Saudi Arabia, nor even regular cinemas, it is astonishing how fast this juggernaut is accelerating in all sectors. It is certainly destined to be the hottest new venue for golf development in the very near future. Stay tuned. As the official motto goes: “KSA is open for business.” GCA Sam Sakocius is a real estate and golf development expert and head of Qualitas Project Control SAM SAKOC I US The first ever Golf Saudi Summit was held in King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah Photo: Golf Saudi