There isn’t a gallery or any onlookers at all, but Wednesday’s Saudi International doesn’t cut corners on proper first tee introductions.
“Next on the tee, Ian Poulter.”
There’s a distant, lonely clap from a putting green a few holes away — it’s Sergio Garcia and “Poults” obliges, “Thank you, Sergio!”
It’s a scorching hot day in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia which is about an hour north of Jeddah. Many of the players participating in the pro-am have flown over from the United States and despite a 12-hour time difference and 8,000-mile haul — spirits are high. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a more congenial group of professional athletes. I have a quick chat with Tony Finau and Patrick Reed who finished first and second last week in San Diego at Torrey Pines. Both agreed Tuesday was a big foggy with jet-lag and the San Diego to Shannon, Ireland (refuel) to Saudi Arabia charter flight, but Wednesday feels good and they’re ready to go.
My pro-am foursome is the last group off and we’re playing with Sean Crocker, a 24-year old former Southern Cal Trojan, now based in Palm Beach, Florida. Sean knocks the hell out of it and is a gracious host. I ask him about his approach to the pro-am and how he uses it to prepare for the tournament.
“It’s nice to get a look at the golf course before ahead of tomorrow, but I don’t really care how I play or how I hit it today. This round of golf is really about y’all the pro-am participants and more about you guys having a good time,” he says.
Phil Mickelson answered questions for a few journalists minutes before my 13:30 tee time and he called course conditions at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, “a 10 out of 10.” I have to agree — from tee to green this golf course is perfect. Designed by Dave Sampson of London based European Golf Design, the golf course is loaded with tricky mounds and it forces players to make decisions. It isn’t overly challenging off the tee, but the sloping greens make it challenging to get the ball close to the hole.
It will be particularly interesting to see how the six players that flew over from California perform. I flew from DFW and have some understanding — if Patrick Reed were to win back-to-back events 8,000 miles apart — that would be the epitome of a touring pro legend.
In addition to Reed, Finau and Mickelson, players on the San Diego-Saudi Arabia double-bill include Jhonattan Vegas, Jason Kokrak and Viktor Hovland.
Organized by Golf Saudi, a representative tells me that the goal is establish Saudi Arabia as a golf destination by the year 2030 — this golf course and this field are certainly a good start.