Golf Vacations (Malaysia)

CHOICE RESORT Royal Greens Golf Club Saudi Arabia’s first 18-hole golf course was well worth the 10-year wait and recently was the stage of Dustin Johnson’s first win of the year.

The start of a Saudi golfing dream with many more to come.

- BY BENNY TEO

When Dustin Johnson won his first event of the year, it wasn’t at a regular PGA Tour stop in the USA. But it didn’t matter as the competitio­n he has beaten to get that win was certainly a quality one.

Bryson Dechambeau, Li Haotong, Ian Pouter, Victor Dubuisson, and former Asian Tour merits winners Gavin Green and David Lipsky had chased down the top-seeded golfer during this event but his big drives and commanding play ensured that victory, together with a €508,260 paycheck belonged to the 2016 US Open champion.

The site of their contest had as much attention as the competitor­s themselves, and perhaps more. Every player had an earnest word for the wonderful golf course that played host to the event. It was called, The Royal Greens Golf Club.

The accolades came not because this was a new golf course but also represente­d a renaissanc­e in the Middle Eastern state; it was the country’s very first 18-hole golf course, and it took almost 10 years to complete.

Built in the fast developing King Abdullah Economic City, the anticipati­on had been long drawn with constructi­on halted nearly six years from 2008 and only completing at the end of 2017.

The man who was charged with designing this landmark golf course is none other than Dave Sampson of the European Tour Golf Design group, a division of IMG.

Its unique location on the east coast of the

Red Sea is one where links-styled undulation­s meet with desert-style bunkering (read: large swathes of sand) with a glorious clubhouse standing tall and resplenden­t.

Playing to a par of 72 at just under 7,000 yards long, this is not your usual new age course where developers often look for post 7,000-yard tracks. But it does play well for amateurs and profession­als alike, particular­ly the latter, as evidenced by the successful completion of the Saudi Internatio­nal event.

The 80-hectare site includes just 40 hectares of maintained turf with exposed sand areas and wadis (valleys) revealing the desert landscape. Unspoilt views of the Red Sea beckons the golfer as he moves from fairway to green.

“No two consecutiv­e holes play in the same direction,” said Sampson of the exactly 6,900 yard routing, “and the wind will be a key and variable factor in the course’s strateg y. Golfers will also need to be thoughtful from the tee, in particular on the dogleg holes which require precision placement.”

The par three 16th hole plays directly along the shore of the Red Sea, part of a closing fourhole stretch that Sampson believes will provide golfers with a strong finish to the round, with the final two holes assisted by the prevailing wind.

Other notable holes include the 470-yard Par 4, 6th hole, which is the longest and toughest amongst the four pars, and the 427-yard 15th, where the fairway is practicall­y nestled alongside the beach.

The golf course also helps alleviate storm drainage for the Emaar Properties developmen­t, explained Sampson, “with the network of wadis and streams carrying water away from the housing and into four large salt water lakes on the course.”

Royal Greens is grassed throughout with

Pure Dynasty, a paspalum variety supplied by Atlas Turf, allowing the course to being irrigated with sea water, once treated by the desalinati­on plant. “I’m really pleased with how the greens are performing,” said the designer, explaining that the course was sprigged with grass grown from seed on the course’s turf nursery.

The facility also includes comprehens­ive practice facilities including a driving range with extensive practice areas, swing studios, putting, chipping and bunker complexes, and an academy to promote the game to the local populace.

Managed by Troon Golf, Royal Greens has already received widespread praise, including ‘Best Leisure Developmen­t’ from the Internatio­nal Property Awards. The golf facility and entire King Abdullah Economic City developmen­t are part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ to be the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

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