The cream of South Africa’s talented golfers, including the vastly experienced and well-travelled Ernie Els, will tee it up with some of the world’s leading players at the Saudi International, starting on Thursday.
Els, winner of 71 international tournaments, (including four Majors) will be joined by the likes of the exciting young Brandon Stone, winner of the South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2016 and who followed this up with a stunning victory at the Aberdeen Standard Investment Scottish Open last year, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Dean Burmester, George Coetzee, a four-time European Tour winner, Jacques Kruyswijk, Haydn Porteous, Richard Sterne, who finished second to Ireland’s Shane Lowry at the recent Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and Shuan Norris.
Thirty-nine-year-old Trevor Immelman, winner of the US Masters in 2008 and who has battled illness and injury after that Major success, is also in the field. He is currently campaigning on the European Tour after having lost his PGA Tour card a few years ago.
While South Africa are well represented at this inaugural event, the organisers have lined up a glittering array of top notch world stars for what could become one of the biggest tournament in the Desert Swing in the years to come.
The top three in the world rankings - England’s Justin Rose (1), and Americans Brooks Koepka (2) and Dustin Johnson (3) are headed for Saudi this week for a brand new experience on a course which overlooks the Red Sea.
Also entered are Bryson DeChambeau, who is ranked No 5, Patrick Reed, who is No 15, Spain’s Sergia Garcia (No 27), Thomas Bjorn, the winning European 2018 Ryder Cup captain, Thorbjorn Olesen, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson (No 30) and Lee Westwood.
Els (49), who has travelled the world plying his trade on various tours and who will shortly be joining the Champions Tour, had nothing but praise for the venue at the official opening of the course.
The Big Easy, who will captain the International Team in the Presidents Cup in Australia later this year, said: “I’ve played golf all over the world and was delighted to be invited to play Royal Greens earlier this year. The place is spectacular and it will be a great venue for the event. I’ve spent some time getting to know a little bit about the Kingdom’s plans to accelerate golf development in the country and I’m privileged to be a part of it.”
The South African’s Major wins came at the US Open in 1994 and 1997 while he lifted the Claret Jug at the Open Championship in 2002 and 2012.
A host of other European regulars - most of whom are in the United Arab Emirates competing in the Dubai Desert Classic which finishes today - will also head for Jeddah after the completion of the tournament.
However there will be one notable absentee - Shane Lowry, winner of the Abu Dhabi HSCB Championship two weeks ago, has withdrawn.
* The Royal Greens Golf and Country Club is an exclusive, first-class facility set within King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. The beautiful beach-side, 18-hole championship course, designed by European Golf Design, offers an unparalleled golfing experience. The clubhouse overlooks the Red Sea and offers an exclusive members' area with private dining, a board room, cigar room, library, business centre and other luxury amenities. With its state-of-the-art practice facilities, Golf Academy, Spa and array of fine dining options, Royal Greens is set to become one of the region’s finest sports and leisure destinations.
* Broadcast schedule:
Thursday: 10am, CSN/S1; Friday: 10am CSN/SS1; Saturday: 11.30am, SS5/CSN; Sunday: 11.30am, SS8
Iqbal Khan will cover the event for the Independent Media.