Saudi Arabia turns to golf to tee up foreign investment

Saudi officials say the kingdom is increasingly turning to sports to bring potential investors to become familiar with the country and business opportunities there
Saudi Arabia turns to golf to tee up foreign investment
Khaled Tash, deputy governor for marketing and communication of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (centre), with South Afican golfer and course designer Ernie Els and Othman Almulla Saudi Araba's first professional golfer.
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Sun 03 Feb 2019 05:43 PM

Golf is a “perfect opportunity” to attract inflows of foreign investment as Saudi Arabia opens its economy to the rest of the world, according to Khaled Tash, the deputy governor for marketing and communication of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

Speaking on the sidelines of the Saudi International – the kingdom’s first international golf tournament – Tash told Arabian Business that Saudi authorities have identified golf as an important way to attract international business leaders to the country.

“Golf is a perfect opportunity for us,” he said. “Ninety percent of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf, and 93 percent say that on the golf course they’ve made some of their biggest, most notable business deals.”

During the Saudi International, Tash added, SAGIA prepared a significant amount of collateral material and a programme tailored for investors under the umbrella of “golf means business.”

Sporting events

While in the past Saudi Arabia was primarily focused on wooing investors abroad through trade shows and international visits, Tash said that opportunities such as the Saudi International mean that more foreign investors will come to Saudi Arabia to explore opportunities.

"It’s becoming more interesting for foreign investors for them to come here and experience Saudi Arabia in a different way and see what’s happening on the ground,” he said.

Golf, he added, forms part of a larger effort to attract international attention through sporting events, which in the last several months have also include the Formula E Grand Prix in Ad Diriyah and a WWE wrestling event in Jeddah.

Premier leisure destination

One of the best examples of Saudi Arabia’s turn towards sports, he said, was the recent Italian Supercup in Jeddah, which saw nearly 65,000 people flock to Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City to watch Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus take on AC Milan.

“It’s a historic number in Saudi sports,” he said. “That’s the kind of activation we want to draw the attention of the business community.”

In a separate interview at the Saudi International, King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) group CEO Ahmed Linjawi said that golf forms an important pillar in the city’s aim of becoming the “premier leisure destination on the Red Sea.”

“In that, there are several areas where we want to be different or leading,” he said. “One of them is elite sports, and that’s where golf comes into play.”

The Saudi International, which was held at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club in KAEC, also included concerts from Mariah Carey, DJ Tiesto and Sean Paul.

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