My dream is to become Saudi’s first woman golf professional: Layla AlTelmissani


JEDDAH — A 16-year-old golf protégé who last year became one of the first women to represent Saudi Arabia internationally in the sport is dreaming of now becoming the Kingdom’s first ever female golf professional.

Layla AlTelmissani played alongside her mother Raghdah AlEssawi in the three-women Saudi Golf Federation national team that broke new ground by being the Kingdom’s first ladies’ team to play in an international tournament when they competed in the Pan Arabia Golf Championship in Egypt last summer.

Their national selection came when they had only been playing golf for a matter of months, after joining the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) with Raghdah’s husband Mohammed AlTelmissani and Layla’s younger brother Omar, 11.

But it is enough to have made the whole family hooked on golf — and Layla, especially, aiming for great things in the sport.

They now can’t wait to find even more inspiration when the world’s best golfers’ tee-up on the family’s home course when the second-annual Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers gets under way this weekend.

“My dream is to become the first Saudi woman professional,” said 16-year-old Layla, who last week was inches away from a hole-in-one on Royal Greens’ most famous hole, the par three 16th — where tournament champion Dustin Johnson landed in the water in his final round last year.

“Golf is very stress relieving. Being out on the course takes you to this whole different environment, and I like that. I’ve been playing golf for around a year now. I play a lot of other sports, and golf was a suggestion my mum made as something else I could try. So I did, and ended up liking it.

“It gives you a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. I am happy when I’m out on the course playing — I love it. Of all the sports I play, golf is my favorite, definitely.”

The family will be out on the golf course following the world’s best golfers — including world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, defending Saudi International champion and world No. 5 Dustin Johnson, plus a host of Major-winning golfers and Ryder Cup heroes — when the four-day, $3.5million-prize purse Saudi International golf tournament returns on Thursday (Jan. 30).

A total 132 players will descend on the stunning King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, where ticketholders can watch them live and up-close across the course. There will also be an action-packed Entertainment Zone packed with foodtrucks, E-Sports gaming and fun for children of all ages at what promises to be ‘The Ultimate Day Out’.

Post-golf concerts will see Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams, Belgian born DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Grammy Award–winning DJ Zedd, flamenco favourites the Gipsy Kings and Puerto Rican music sensation Luis Fonsi — the man behind global megahit ‘Despacito’ — all take to the stage across tournament weekend.

The tournament is the latest event aimed at continuing the rise of golf in the Kingdom, with governing body Golf Saudi aiming to introduce one million Saudis to the sport by 2030.

Layla’s mother Raghdah, a schoolteacher, admits to being taken aback by how much she and the family have taken to the game.

She said: “At this moment in time there’s not many people, especially ladies, who play golf or even try playing golf in Saudi. But it is such an easy sport to get hooked on. It’s a great family activity and it really does have no age – anyone can start playing golf.

“I can only see a very bright future for golf here in the Kingdom, and I hope people get motivated to give it a try by seeing these types of opportunities that come through golf.”

To husband Mohammed, playing golf provides a regular opportunity for something he finds uniquely special. He said: “For me, what I love about golf is just the time it gives me to spend with my family. We are out on the golf course, mobile phones are away, and it’s just great time together. We talk and have fun. That quality, family time is the major attraction to me. On top of that, it’s played in a beautiful location and is an enjoyable challenge.

“After our initial coaching, we were all hooked, and the kids started to play almost every day. Now, when we jokingly say to them ‘No more golf for today’, they beg us to keep playing! They really love it.”

Mohammed added: “We see huge potential in this game in Saudi Arabia right now. Over the last year, we have seen so many new people traveling from across the Kingdom to come and play here in KAEC. Now, we see many of those people here regularly. That is a very good and clear indication that the sport of golf is starting to get into our culture. A golf community exists here, and there’s a lot of motivation in that.”

Partner support as the tournament heads into its second year remains as strong as ever, with SoftBank Investment Advisers, Saudi Aramco, Public Investment Fund, Saudia, SAMBA, Rolex, Saddik & Mohamed Attar, GIB, STC, Saudi Cargo, UMA Premium, Invest Saudi, Xerox, Mix FM, Al Arabiya, Nespresso and Evian all powering the event. — SG