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Golf course emerges from the desert at Diriyah giga-project

Golf course project being built near Riyadh AGBI/Andrew Hammond
The luxury sports resort at the Diriyah giga-project includes a golf course designed by Greg Norman
  • Equestrian centre also included
  • Hotel construction begins
  • Plans to build polo facility

Saudi Arabia is developing a luxury golf and equestrian resort outside Riyadh as part of the Diriyah giga-project, with three major hotel brands announcing this week that they were taking part. 

Aman, Oberoi and Six Senses are the first hotels to start construction in the mountainous rocky land on the edge of the desert west of the Saudi capital, where the golfing star Greg Norman has designed what is claimed to be a unique golf course. 

The hoteliers said they had been given strict rules covering the architecture and design of the project, which has to follow the traditional forms and standards of the Najd region, in line with the Diriyah Company’s remit to develop the historic old district of Riyadh. 

“The architects and interior designers were given full guidelines on what Najdi means, so it’s not open to interpretation,” said Sameer Nayar, executive vice president of The Oberoi Group. “All the properties, whatever the brand, will look similar from the outside.”  

At the ground-breaking ceremony attended by the kingdom’s tourism minister, Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the elements demonstrated how forbidding the location could be, with high winds and a spate of rain before sun began to shine. 

“Wind will be an issue, there will be a tunnelling effect, but the hotels will be equipped to deal with it,” Nayar said. 

Despite the Gulf region’s harsh summer climate, the golf course is fitted with extensive sprinkler systems and night lighting to benefit from the cooler temperatures after sunset. 

Philip Vaughan, chief development officer for Diriyah Company, said the course was designed to showcase and work with the striking terrain of the area. 

“It’s a championship course, it will have a distinct appeal and be instantly recognisable when you see it,” the British national said. The course is likely to be ready by 2025 and become the host to the Saudi Open, he said. 

Saudi Arabia is heavily promoting sports, tourism and heritage as part of economic reforms, to diversify away from oil, attract foreign investment and provide jobs for its growing population of 32 million people. 

Diriyah Company, set up by the Public Investment Fund in 2022, is at the forefront of plans to make Riyadh a major world city by 2030, with a new airport served by a new airline.

Polo on the horizon

In line with the high-end theme, Wadi Safar is also the centre of efforts to develop polo as a national sport, providing facilities and training. 

At the launch of the project, four Saudi players joined the Argentinian polo star Nacho Figueras and his son Hilario on a sandy playing field for a match before the TV cameras. 

Amr Zedan, president of the Saudi Polo Federation, said there were currently about 40 Saudi players, which would enable the team to participate in the 2026 World Polo Championship. 

“Polo was played back in the day on donkeys and horses. In Jeddah in the 1960s it was played by the army. So now we’re just bringing it back in a smarter fashion and looking for an uptick in the game,” Zedan said. 

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