FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

DUBAI: Thirty-one-year-old Haya Ghassan Alsulaiman, Saudi owner of the Dubai-based golf coaching center Golftec, is hoping to encourage more women to play the sport in the Middle East.

Already one of the US’ most popular institutions for golf development, Golftec — with Alsulaiman at the helm — launched in 2023 at Dubai City Walk.

The organization was initially founded in 1995 in the basement of a Denver, Colorado, country club, and has since become a household name around the world, operating in six countries, with more than 210 locations employing in excess of 800 full-time golf coaches.

However, it remains little known in the Middle East.

Alsulaiman is ready to change that across the UAE and wider region and, in the process, empower more women to embrace a sport that has long been seen as the domain of men.

“I am used to being the only woman in a male-dominated industry,” Alsulaiman told Arab News, explaining that she had previously worked for her father’s automotive dealership in Saudi where she was the only female employee among more than 200 men.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Alsulaiman would vacation in California with her family every summer, and would regularly play tennis with her father.

When her father injured his knee, he switched to golf and learned how to play with Golftec.

“It was much easier for my father to understand the sport with this type of learning facility,” she said. “Then he encouraged my sister to get involved by first becoming his caddy.

“The more she went with my father, the more she desired to play,” Alsulaiman said. “Then she suggested to take lessons with him at Golftec.”

Haya soon caught the bug and joined her father and sister in taking golf classes.

From 2014 she began playing golf each summer during the family holiday in California.

“The routine was to take a lesson or two at Golftec and then go out on the range to practice what we were taught in the lesson and then, two days after, go play on an official golf course,” she said. “That was our routine, week after week.”

Alsulaiman developed a great love for the sport. However, when she returned to Saudi after the summer, she had nowhere to practice and play.

“In Saudi there were not the facilities for golf that there are today and no coaches, so we could only play in the summer,” she said. “We played from summer to summer. The sport bonded our family. We so enjoyed it. We laughed, had fun and engaged in family friendly competition.”

After the pandemic, Alsulaiman decided to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Dubai. Following her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, she opened her own business — Golftec’s first branch in the Middle East.

The business allows her to do what she loves and, she said, encourage more women to play the sport.

While golf has become a popular sport in the UAE, with many golf courses and training centers, Alsulaiman said that there was nothing that matched Golftec’s teaching methodology, with the advanced use of motion technology and video feedback making it easy for trainees to follow. She also finds the learning environment less intimidating than that of a golf club.

“It’s relaxed and fun and is a perfect place to encourage more women to learn,” she said.

Just under a decade ago the idea of a Saudi female golfer would have been hard to imagine. Today, thanks to a slew of social reforms under Saudi Vision 2030, golf and many other sports are increasingly accessible to women across the country.

In 2020, the inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by the Public Investment Fund was held at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City, signaling a turning point for women’s golf in the Kingdom.

The event also launched a comprehensive national golf sustainability strategy that oversees the environmental, economic and social aspects of the sport.

In December 2023, the Royal Diriyah Golf Club was unveiled in an event that saw Saudi women and men take to the Greg Norman-designed golf course for the first time alongside international guests.

Abeer Al-Johani, director of the Federation Office at the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the strides women were making in the sport reflected the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“Saudi women aside, women playing golf need much more sport, more media coverage and more opportunities,” Al-Johani told Arab News. “We need similar encouragement to what men receive but I believe we are beginning to see a lot of change — a lot of women are supporting other women in the sport specifically.”

Alsulaiman and Golftec are more than playing their part in making that happen.

Leave a Comment