How Greg Norman is Bringing Growth With Golf in Saudi Arabia

The Great White Shark, Greg Norman, charts a new course for the rapid growth of his beloved sport that’s set to transform Saudi Arabia.
text by Ellfian Rahim

Greg Norman LIV Golf

In line with the kingdom’s Vision 2030 goal to transform into a global tourist destination, Saudi Arabia has set a precedent for blending respect for heritage with forward-looking sustainable ventures.

But more than anything else, its Vision 2030 is also a key part of the country’s long-term plan to diversify its economy away from oil. Now, the kingdom wants to see tourism go from contributing just three percent right to national income and increase it to 10 percent, while adding over a million more jobs to the sector.

And perhaps what has become one of the most visible and important components of this plan is the US$63 billion giga- project that will transform the town of Diriyah on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Riyadh, with a massive, state-of-the-art integrated community development set to become an oasis for future visitors, situated on the outskirts of the metropolis of Riyadh, in which three major resorts will be hosted: The Six Senses, the Aman, and the Oberoi.

Here is also where Australian golf legend Greg Norman, now the CEO of LIV Golf – one of the key rivals to the PGA Tour since it went public in 2019 – has been keeping busy. In his heyday as one of the sport’s most outstanding players, the 66-year- old has won 91 professional tournaments, including two Open championships, during a distinguished career that saw him top the world rankings for 331 consecutive weeks.

In more recent times, Norman has also become one of the world’s most successful athlete-turned-entrepreneurs, with his own Great White Shark Enterprises boasting more than a dozen companies under its wing. Through one of these establishments – LIV Golf Investments – he’s just overseen the successful design and creation of The Royal Diriyah Golf Club, a 27-hole Golf Course set to be the key project of the exclusive new Wadi Safar residential district in a valley 30 minutes north- west of the centre of Riyadh.

Greg Norman LIV Golf

The course, along with the newly grassed driving range, is part of the historical and cultural site of Diriyah – the historical birthplace of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. “It is a tremendous honour for me to be involved with such a transformational project at Wadi Safar. The project will showcase over 300 years of culture and heritage to the world, and the golf course setting is absolutely perfect for that,” says Norman from his current base in the Saudi capital during a recent interview.

He then points out that there definitely is a massive growth corridor opening up in Riyadh right now. The population of the country’s key financial hub is going to go from eight million to 15 million by 2030. “This is an incredible growth when you think about it. And golf is going to be a part of that – it’s integral to this forward shift.”

Greg Norman LIV Golf

“And best of all, Wadi Safar is also set to be built at a UNESCO site,” reveals Norman excitedly. As many already know, the area was founded way back in the 15th century and has borne witness to the Najdi architectural style which is specific to the centre of the Arabian Peninsula. “It’s incredible, and golf is an amenity that is needed to think about the quality of the hotels that are coming in here – from the Oberoi to the Six Senses, to the Aman and many others. We have to deliver something special, and that is the golf course that we have built.”

But Norman also points out that fitting the golf course into the river valley, or wadi, also presents unique challenges. “We have a lot of responsibilities that we’ve taken on our shoulders but I’m very proud to say that we’ve done an excellent job with it. We have managed to preserve and incorporate the natural character of the Diriyah landscape into the golf course and I feel confident that it will play a huge part in making the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a golfing destination of the world in the very near future," he continues.

Norman was also quick to point out that one of the main challenges that comes with a project like this is its massive scale. “When you build a golf course, you need to take a lot of components into place – everything from what is happening on the tee, to the landing area and all the way to the green. And if you manage to pull the whole exterior in, it certainly becomes a work of art. I’m also proud of the fact that we’ve managed to accomplish so much within the confines of the Wadi.”

“With this project, we’ve managed to take golf into the Wadi and integrated that natural component into the golf course itself. You couldn’t just do something like that off a set of plans – you have to be here to feel everything, know where the wind is coming from, understand all the associated components properly and keep your approach as least intrusive as possible to the local environment, and leave the place the way it was before we even started.”

Norman is also proud to point out that over the years, he has seen how golf has transformed countries that have decided to champion the sport. “From a golfer’s perspective – and I’ve always been a player, mind you – golf diplomacy has consistently been at the forefront of my mind when I first began my exit from my playing career back in the day.”

Greg Norman LIV Golf

“I’ve seen what golf has done for other countries – I’ve seen the growth it brought to countries like Sweden, Vietnam and everywhere in Southeast Asia – and I’ve been involved with the sport’s growth around the world either as a player, a golf course designer or as part of the business of golf, in some capacity. I am confident that it’s not going to be any different here in Saudi Arabia”.

So, does he feel that Saudi Arabia is finally on its way to becoming a golfing powerhouse too, then? “Yes, I do,” he quickly answers. “To have a vision like how the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has for what he wants to do for his country is one thing, but to deliver on the vision is another thing altogether!”

“And when you think about golf being one of the main components of this, it feels special for me – I definitely take this duty with immense pride because the impact that this Wadi Safar project in Diriyah will have on the world is going to be significant indeed.”

This story first published on The Peak February 2024 Issue.

, , ,

Type keyword(s) and press Enter