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January 30, 2019
King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, both. Very pleased to be joined by two of the driving forces behind this golf tournament and also one of our stars of the field, Henrik Stenson. If I could just start with you, Your Excellency, maybe you could just elaborate on some of the players we have here this week, we've got four of the top 5 in the world, a number of Ryder Cup stars and major champions such as Henrik. In terms of your vision for golf in the kingdom, tell us how this golf tournament fits in and tell us a little bit about that vision.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: It's the start of many good things that will happen in Saudi, not only in golf but throughout. These sports, recreation is part of the vision 2030 that we have. The quality of living is another thing. And it all fits with our strategy in the Saudi Golf Federation. We're really proud that we got the partnership with the European PGA and got this tournament in Saudi for the first time, first professional championship in Saudi, and hopefully it's going to be a continuous thing, and hopefully we will have more championships and tournaments coming in to Saudi because we are committed to the new golf courses we have. It's going to be six grass, five sand, and I think five executive golf courses. But these numbers will increase.
It's part not only of the strategy of the Saudi Golf Federation, but also part of the strategy of the PIF, the Public Investment Fund, that they're building -- and I am the managing director of the Public Investment Fund. We're building a lot of giga-projects, and the definition of giga-projects it's bigger than mega, so it's really huge. It's like the sizes of cities, and most of the real estate that we have will have golf courses.
So I think between 13 to maybe 20-ish golf courses would be built in the coming 12 years or so from here until 2030.
The good thing about this tournament and what we've achieved, of course, with the work of our CEO Majed, we have 132 professional players at this tournament, four out of the five top players in the world, and we have seven major championship players. Henrik is one of the best players, and he lived in the Middle East for quite some time, and I think the Middle East weather is really good for golf throughout the area, not only just a few months a year.
THE MODERATOR: Majed, if you'd like to give us a few words, we touched upon the amount of work that goes into a golf tournament. How proud are you now we've got the world's leading players here this week?
MAJED AL SOROUR: You know, when he gave me the opportunity to put this thing together, I thought it was easy. We're just going to go have a European Tour, okay, so call the guys -- until you actually really go through the details of it. I'd like to thank IMG for putting a lot of work with us. Middle of the time when it all started -- this is when I started to realise that this thing is just not a golf tournament, it is much, much bigger than that.
Transforming that vision for the openness, we are open to business, we are welcoming to business. That's another message. The challenges that we faced throughout the year with everything, from preparing the course to putting something to the high level of sports just became -- like to us a more and more rigorous test of something that needs to be achieved at a high level.
Having to really meet with all the players and to go through their story, for me it was a huge learning curve. But we're here now. We're in the final stretch. Tomorrow it's day one, so hopefully we can welcome them to the first tee, and history is recorded.
THE MODERATOR: Henrik, I wonder, as well, you've lived in the Middle East before, and you've been coming here for about 20 years now.
HENRIK STENSON: Is it really that long?
THE MODERATOR: It is.
HENRIK STENSON: Where did the years go?
THE MODERATOR: Talk about your growth of golf in this region and also you were there at the start when you were seeing the players on the European Tour and the people who inspired you, so how important is it for youngsters in this region to have players to look up to on their doorstep?
HENRIK STENSON: I started feeling old over 20 years on Tour, but golf in Sweden started a little bit before my time, so I have to put that in there. Yeah, I mean, we've seen the development all over. I mean, if I look at, say, China, for instance, when we came there in 2005, very few players in the tournament that had anything to do with, and then we've seen the progression of the Chinese players. From the Tour being there, playing tournaments, and they've been part of that, and all of a sudden they went from being among the last in that limited field to being in the middle, and all of a sudden we got Chinese players challenging for winning.
It always takes a bit of time, but when the opportunity is given to the local players, that gives them a chance to grow and see what's required, and they can work on their game, and no matter where we go in the world, that seems to be the way, and it's always exciting to bring this game that we all play and love to new parts of the world where it's not as established, and we have again an opportunity to grow the game of golf, to introduce it to a new audience, and it's exciting to see what can happen in the future.
We have a couple of -- the two young players that will participate in this week's tournament as well as on the range yesterday and spoke to them, how are things, how's the game, we're a little nervous. I was like, yeah, that's quite all right, go out there and do your best and focus on your own game and see the learning experience as it is.
And in terms of the bigger picture, more golf courses are obviously going to give the opportunity for more people to learn the people and get in contact with the game, and that I'm sure has its challenges, as well. How are you going to put all that together. In Sweden, golf was very accessible. That's been a big part of why we've been successful, because a lot of juniors could come in contact and pick up the game and get started, and of course the more young players you have, if you have a wide base, then you're going to get a good top, as well. Yeah, it's like a pyramid. If a lot of players have the opportunity, it's going to feed and make some good players eventually get to the top, as well.
Yeah, having more golf courses is obviously going to help, and academies and get the introduction to the new generation to take up the game.
Q. Is Dubai a template in some respects, how successful Dubai has been in terms of building up? Is that what you would see yourself achieving?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: I think it's going to be complementing what Dubai started, so just selling the Middle East as a golf destination. It's part of, as I said, the Saudi Golf Federation strategy to build more golf courses. Like what Henrik said, the accessibility to the game will build up the game in Saudi, and I think we will have more players.
But I can't tell you what we want to achieve. It's getting the tournaments; that's one. Number two, to have golf academies to get more players; number three, to build golf courses. So that's the accessibility. And number four, which is what Henrik said about our players. We want to have our players tournament professionals. We had the first Saudi player turn professional, Almulla, just recently, and he's going to play in this tournament. So these are the four main things that we'd like to achieve.
Q. At home in UK we have a real struggle getting girls to play, and I think it's about 14 per cent of the people playing in Scotland are women and girls. How are you going to address that problem?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: Two of my daughters used to play when they were little, but I guess they don't like the sun, so they stopped. It's a challenge. But I think we have already one girl who's playing, and she's really taking it as a serious thing. We don't have many players here. We have only 220 registered players, and we have about 6,000 regular players between Saudis and ex-pats.
So it's not a gender bias, but it's a new thing. So we would like to attract more and more people regardless of gender or nationality.
MAJED AL SOROUR: One part of our strategy is focused on mass participation. I have to mention people who are helping us in that one. I refer to both IMG and P-54. P-54 and us have been working together in mass participation. One key that His Excellency his emphasized and a question has came up last year or this apps during the opening of the players saying, are you going to allow women to play. The old story of Saudi Arabia that's segregated is no longer applicable. So women and men, visitors of Saudi Arabia have the right to come and participate in sports. One of the focuses on the mass sports participation is the activation of other things. We know that golf is not really -- the idea of golf from the outside, they think it's an elite sport. It's expensive, clubs and all that stuff. For that one we have set a great budget, thanks to him, to work directly with schools, bringing -- like if we build a course and it's only a golf course, then you're going to only attract golfers. We want to build the golf course, can have a polo club, we can have a family activation, why don't we have cooking and babysitting facilities, then the family can come. If we can bring the family, then we can have the participation.
This is just one idea, and we're playing with a lot of ideas for people to just do something much larger. It's easy, you have the money to go build 13 golf courses, but then who's going to use them? And if we don't have that streamline of the mass participation, then it's useless what we're doing. So we're trying to balance the time -- to stream both at the same time.
Q. Question to both your excellency and Majed. My very good friend, I'm sure he's doing you guys very proud this week by turning professional. Can you tell us something about him and what example he sets this week for Saudi golf, and also, can you tell us something -- I know that you guys have had some of your amateurs -- what kind of a thing are you doing for your, should I say, good amateurs, who follow in the footsteps and take the legacy of the tournament?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: The first Saudi professional just turned professional recently. We supported him with his workplace.
We're trying to support our national team members by -- trying to shed some light by taking them to camps, getting them in clinics and one of the things that I would think even would work on with them is to have technically -- it's all -- one of the things I would like, also to add to it, to have some regular caddies that can understand the golf courses that they are playing, and it would help a lot.
But Majed, please.
MAJED AL SOROUR: His Excellency has given an opportunity to turn pro, and so with the support of the Saudi Golf Federation, we told them, if you would like to turn pro, we'll give you a chance of two years where we can give as much support as possible, sponsorship support. We will push for sponsorships, we will push ourselves.
One of the things that I remember Henrik, last year, was talking, we were having a conversation during the HSBC, and I told him -- and the idea of playing, to go play and compete against others.
And he said he feels more comfortable playing more than playing less. What we have in our national team, they are playing less, they are not playing more.
So when we decided to put them in England with Zane and all that stuff, we wanted to compete -- not compete golf, play with players. If you want to test yourself, you have to test yourself against the best to understand what is it you can give.
Also we are working now with almost 12 of them that we're going to, you know, Zane is going to be on not only one, but yeah, I had already spoken with Claude Harmon. We're working with also Ernie Els to find out in their academies and hopefully we'll start working more with Henrik on that one.
We need these guys to start really being exposed as much as possible to bring up to par.
Q. And also, it's great that you have started with such a huge tournament. You said that your vision is to have more tournaments over here. What kind of a thing -- over here there's limited opportunity for your players. This is more like a short case of the facility of what Saudi has to offer. Have you had word with, say, Asian Tour, where there's more of a chance of your players -- or having some Asian Tour events or MENA Tour events here? Have you had any thoughts about that?
MAJED AL SOROUR: We do have these tournaments, and the national team, we have the international tournaments such as at The Asian Tour and European Tour, and we used to have the MENA Tour, and it just start this year. David?
Q. David Spencer.
MAJED AL SOROUR: David Spencer and I just had this conversation last week that we would love to sit down with the Asian Tour and have activation with them. We do have the Saudi Open and the Saudi Open has started really small and got much bigger. Last year, we had almost seven professionals come.
Then you have the idea of the Federation itself. So the Federation plays the Arab League, multiple leagues and they still do that one. I agree with you, golf, again, it's not -- it's not played by countries. Golf is played by individuals, okay, and we want this individual to get better and we are trying to activate more and we're really pushing for two things, the high level of doing something really big --
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: Most of the Federations if you turn pro --
MAJED AL SOROUR: You can't play with them.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: It's not a responsibility for us and here we really encourage people to go and we are willing to sponsor. That's the thing.
Q. Going back to your vision for the future, with the different countries in the region and being inclusive to families, what do you think as a destination golf resort, what will be different of other places?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: I'm not sure if there is going to be a big different from many other place. The only difference is the location, I would say.
So in Saudi, Saudi has to offer a lot when it comes to the locations, the terrain. When you go up north, you will have like mountains, seas, the weather is colder throughout the year. Same thing in the south, and in the middle, it's dry and gets really hot in the summer but really nice in the other months.
So the only thing is the different, I would say, terrains and the location itself.
HENRIK STENSON: I think it's about coming up with good concepts on how you're going to engage the golfers. Like we said, I think you've got to spread it out.
Yeah, you want to have a couple of tournament capable golf courses. You want to have some resort golf courses and you want to have some, you know, maybe six-hole courses or nine-hole courses where you can do all these things, because I don't think that's going to differ compared to anywhere else.
It's about getting the youngsters to start picking up the game and making that possible, and if you can do it all together as a family and as we all know, within a family, there's always going to be different interests. Your daughter wants to do that, your son wants to do that, mommy wants to do this and the dad wants to do the other thing. If you can combine that, I think you've got a good chance of making it successful, as well.
I think when you're starting to make a master plan like this, you've got to look at what do we need and where is it going to be placed and try and get all these things together so you're not playing catch-up too much. You want to get the proper plan in place and then you can execute it. So yeah, it's really --
MAJED AL SOROUR: And we will listen. We are at a place where this is the infancy of something much bigger coming. So we are listening to our ambassador guidelines. We are listening to the players and we are listening to the designers and we are looking at so much, and a lot of studies worldwide that we explored, the Sweden model versus the Irish model of the successful players and we look at something like Asian and how has it really succeeded now. You have the Thailand story.
So we are looking at all these different, and we want to bring what success really look like and bring them in here and mix them with the culture. That's difficult but we are trying to manage between both of them.
Q. So it is part of your strategy to have more presence in the big tournaments in the majors in the America, in The Open, and even sponsoring tournaments outside of Saudi, tournaments on The European Tour?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: That's one of the things that we were actually discussing recently. We haven't come to a final decision but we really consider it.
Q. Your excellency, you mentioned the vision, the 2030 vision and the role that golf plays, and not just golf. We've seen Ronaldo was here a couple of weeks ago, WWE was here, boxing. So I can see where golf plays its part politically but you're opening up Saudi Arabia here to the world, and they are looking in and this tournament has caused a degree of controversy and not everybody is happy about that. I wonder how you feel about the criticisms of Saudi Arabia involving themselves in sport in this way?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: I mean, the criticism was recently with the event that happened. That's basically what happened, and it was wrong. It wasn't something we're proud of or sponsored by the government.
I think even the conference, when he attended the Future Investment Initiative, he said the best three or four years we've been doing reform in the economy -- and now we are starting with the political and security reform.
So that's what you're starting to do as a government. Open up to the world has nothing to do with the criticism. That's our decision. Since 1979, the Islamic Revolution changed the whole region, and unfortunately it took us all back.
Now it's time for us to rise and to start within some objectives and pursue these objectives. We want to have better life for our people in Saudi. The quality of life has to improve. That's -- it's not a choice. That's a must.
Even if you look at it from the economical standpoint, the Saudis are spending more than $20 billion in annual basis tourism outside of Saudi, and we said, why the hell they are not spending time here in Saudi.
So we brought whatever events and things to Saudi Arabia, so it would create more jobs. It would have an impact to be, close to the GDP and it would make people feel happier.
Q. What you can't see is the impact that this kind of invitation to the world to come to Saudi Arabia will have on the people of Saudi Arabia. Is Saudi Arabia ready for that change? The way we see women in the west, for example, would be surprised about the constrictions of what they can do -- which is perfectly fine because that's been the cultural relevance in Saudi Arabia. It's been misunderstood in other parts of the world. How do you reconcile with the way you see the world and how other people see you?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: Yeah, by the way, it's not only Saudi Arabia. It's 18 other countries around the world, but the thing is focus is always --
Q. Yeah, but you've invited that in a sense.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: If you want to see the other countries, countries in Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, which is more liberal, people would think, they have the same rules but nobody is talking about them.
The change is happening and it's coming. But you cannot, you know, flip things overnight, and if you want to flip things overnight, only it will have -- it's not a destruction. It's a destruction, basically and that's the last thing we wanted.
Q. I would add just one last thing. It took 700 years from the Magna Carta, which in the U.K., we took the powers from the king. We took 700 years for women to get the vote after that period. So, you know, you're moving quickly in a sense. (Laughter)
Q. I wanted to get back to golf. I'm from India and we saw golf grow in the last ten, 15, 20 years, and we saw a proliferation of federations, the professionals, the amateurs, the ladies, the juniors and now we are in a situation where it's actually a problem trying to control all of them to bring them under a single umbrella. Do you foresee something like that or would you have a solution to that -- professionals being the role model for juniors, do you have a vision for that?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: I'm really not sure if I understand.
MAJED AL SOROUR: I get it. May I?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: Yeah, please, please.
MAJED AL SOROUR: So identification of this issue rise when we --
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: That's why I --
MAJED AL SOROUR: It's just the detail. He's too busy doing a lot. He's got -- he's managing director for the pif. That's plenty of work on its own, so I try to get the other side in the sport and the focus.
So one of the things that we identification as an issue is having to activate so many things under the umbrella of the Saudi Golf Federation. So under the guideline of His Excellency, we sat down and we decided to start a company that's going to be involved with the development of the whole thing.
So the Saudi Golf Federation is going to function as the governing body and the general sports authority, and then we spun off it a wholly owned company from the Saudi Golf Federation to activate all of our strategies.
We are still going to continue with the Saudi Golf Federation as the development of the national team, a competition under the Federation, governing body.
Then this company is going to take care of all the building, infrastructure, the tourism, you know, building multiple different courses from full on hotels, resorts, to medium, and also we need to pay attention to our municipal courses. The small courses is going to bring in that.
So once we develop all these things and have that register and then we can take that here to build the grass roots, either for a national team under the guidelines of amateur, or to bring them out to play the golf as professional individual players such as Almulla and Ahmed.
Q. How far along the line do you see yourselves considering a women's tournament here?
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: I think we're ready for it. I think Majed is already in talks with -- I don't know if you want to --
Q. The LET?
MAJED AL SOROUR: So with the help of P54, we are working now to put together an LET or LPGA. Hopefully both of them they are going to come and engage both IMG and P54. We have been speaking with them and we need to fit them in the schedule.
So as you know, when we came into The European Tour, we had to fit ourselves in a schedule, and we identification the schedule. Now we know they are playing, May, I think now, they moved a match with the LET in May in Dubai.
Q. Dubai is May.
MAJED AL SOROUR: But they moved it tonight time because of the weather. So we are trying to see where there is a time when we can actually host one of those tournaments around that time. If it's not this year, next year. We just need to identify the schedule that fits the LET.
Q. One thing I've noticed in the Middle East for 16 years -- I've noticed that when new tournaments happen, there's a lot of activations around it in the schools and getting children involved. But is that becomes a very -- two-month or three-month thing before the tournament and it dies out. I just wanted to ask you, what is your plan? Is it going to be a year-long thing when you want to engage the school and promote golf in the school, or is that already being thought of?
MAJED AL SOROUR: Yes, actually we've been working now with a lot of schools. If you see there is a maze that's been build by -- I don't know --
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: It's a charity of the Crown Prince.
MAJED AL SOROUR: And they have multiple schools. So one of the first opening for us was from there, so we started working with, you know, high-level schools. So we have the American school, we have the British school and we decided to engage them. Now we need to go more to the local school.
First because we understand that these guys understand golf. Now we need to take it to the next level where we can engage the other local schools.
This is a piece of the strategy and that's where we're going to be a year-long, we really have -- if you think of the budget that we have building all this, just from infrastructure-wise, His Excellency had dedicated over 20 percent of that budget to that cause alone, which is a lot of money. So we're trying to just manage it well so we can actually have something in return on that one.
STEVE TODD: Patrick Reed visited one of the local schools yesterday.
MAJED AL SOROUR: And he was really, really wonderful, Patrick -- we're in love with media and thank you for having the hard questions.
Patrick Reed is a really, really good guy. And all of us, when we were sitting there -- and I think, you know, he's criticized for being closed. If you're sitting there and you need to have a deadline to post something for your magazine or newspaper or something, and someone keeps interrupting you, how would you feel about that person? So that's I think the criticism. But no, I like the guy, and he's done a great thing, sat down at the clinic with the kids.
So last night we sat down and he said, this is what I love to do. Most of the kids of the world around me, it's my pleasure and this is something I love to do.
HENRIK STENSON: To round up, if you do that interaction with the kids, there's obviously the bigger plan we talked about is where they are going to go next, and making sure, I think looking back at my upbringing in Sweden, there was always a next step, whether it was in a competition, your club, you became good and then maybe you can play the regional stuff and you always have the next step.
Q. But you had courses. Where do the kids go to play?
HENRIK STENSON: That's in the plan going forward.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: That's in the plan, in addition to, and the plan we want to also put some driving ranges.
Q. You don't need championship courses.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: So that's part of it.
Q. Do you know how much you're going to spend on golf? Is that possible -- sort of being blunt.
HIS EXCELLENCY YASIR AL-RUMAYYAN: So it's like this. The plan is to have one golf course in each one of the regions. The lands would be coming from the government, so we have all the lands in the world to choose. Then the rest is we're going to classify the golf courses -- like executive golf courses.
So the spending, it's not all going to be like this. I mean, this clubhouse is just amazing. It's like one of the best in the world. It's not going to be like this. We'll cater to the needs of the people. If it's like part of a real estate development, it depends on the development itself.
If it's like a resort to have the domestic golfers, or is it going to be a golf destination, it all depends. So the spending will be really balanced between the needs for each one and it's going to be from different sources. It's going to be from the Saudi Golf Federation, from the real estate projects that we will have.
So I think it's going to be massive but I cannot tell you a number right now.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports