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Golf stars flock in Saudi for sizable 'oil prize money'

Posted February. 01, 2023 07:50,   

Updated February. 01, 2023 07:50


Golf stars around the world are about to gather in Saudi Arabia in February for major golf tournaments with handsome amounts of prize money.

Starting on Thursday, IF Saudi International will kick off for four days, an opener to the Asian tour slated to be hosted at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and some of the star players from South Korea will take part in this event, with the KPGA Korean Tour yet to be kicked off. A total of eight Korean golfers will participate, including Kim Bio, the winner of the 2022 Asian Tour rookie award, as well as Kim Young-soo, Yok Tae-hoon, Park Sang-hyeon, Jang Yi-geun, Lee Tae-hee, and Moon Gyeong-joon.

Sponsored by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the event boasts a whopping 5 million dollar prize, more than four times that of the Genesis Championship, which offered the biggest amount of prize money in the Korean Tour last year (around 1.5 billion won). Some of the world-class players will also participate, on a sizable payment to show up in addition to the prize money. Starting on Feb. 16, the LET Aramco Saudi Ladies International will be held at the same venue. Sponsored by Aramco, the state-run oil corporation of Saudi Arabia, the event will also offer a 5 million-dollar prize in total.

On Tuesday, the organizers of the events announced that a total of 13 champions of major tournaments will participate. Some of the top female golfers from South Korea will be included in the last, such as Jeon In-ji, who has three major trophies including the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last year, Kim Hyo-joo, Ji Eun-hee, Lee Jeong-eun, Kim Ah-rim. The list also includes some of the leading golfers such as Lydia Ko (New Zealand), who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, Georgia Hall (England), Lexi Thompson, Danielle Kang (United States), Hannah Green (Australia), Ashleigh Buhai (South Africa), Anna Nordqvist (Sweden), and Patty Tavatanakit (Thailand).

Until last year, the total prize money of those events was one million dollars, but it jumped by five times this year. Some pundits denounced Saudi's move as “sports washing” to sanitize its image tarnished by human rights abuse and discrimination against women. But the players who are after a handsome amount of prize money voice a different opinion. “For a long time, female golfers have demanded they get the equal amount of prize as men. The increase in prize money will definitely empower female golfers,” said Lexi Thompson, who is ranked seventh in the world. The winner of the event will receive 750,000 dollars in prize.

Heon-Jae Lee uni@donga.com