The appearance of female golfers, dressed in casual T-shirts and trousers, is a striking anomaly in Saudi Arabia. Denmark’s Emily Pedersen won the first-ever women’s golf tournament in Saudi Arabia in a tense playoff, but the event designed to soften the kingdom’s austere image has drawn charges of being a ‘sport swashing’ exercise.
With a birdie on the extra hole, Pedersen edged out England’s Georgia Hall and secured the $150,000 winner’s cheque in the inaugural Saudi Ladies International on Sunday at the King Abdullah Economic City close to the western city of Jeddah.
‘I’m so happy to be the first winner of this event,’ Pedersen said in a statement. ‘It’s been such a fantastic experience to be here in Saudi Arabia.’ But Amnesty International and other rights groups said the event glossed over Saudi’s poor human rights record and the jailing of several women activists who have called for reforms.
The appearance of female golfers, dressed in casual T-shirts and trousers, is a striking anomaly in Saudi Arabia, that has long imposed a strict dress code on women.
As part of a sweeping liberalization drive, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has accelerated investment in glitzy sports and entertainment events in a bid to improve its reputation. In March, the kingdom hosted the world’s richest horse race, after staging the Italian and Spanish football Super Cups last year.
It already hosts the Dakar Rally, a 12-day marathon through the Arabian desert, and the all-electric Formula E series, in addition to an array of boxing, golf and tennis events.