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Income tax, gender equality and cultural sensitivities all made it difficult for Americans to play golf in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s. That has all changed
In one of the world’s most restrictive countries, Mohammed Fadel al-Mohannadi, 58, realized there was an empty hole in his schedule — so he came up with a plan: He would invite American golfers to play a match with his daughters, hoping to persuade them to play in Saudi Arabia.
When al-Mohannadi invited Lisa Islam and Emily Pedersen of the United States to play a round at the Royal Saudi Golf Club on Wednesday, it made international headlines. The following day, al-Mohannadi greeted President Donald Trump at his kingdom’s King Abdullah Economic City, where he signed a $110 billion arms deal.
Together with other prominent members of the Saudi game, al-Mohannadi — an engineer — owns the royal company, Integrated Systems. The world’s largest such company in the Middle East, Integrated Systems has established partnerships with China and Turkey.
But it wasn’t always an easy path.
‘I don’t see it as a sign of their progressive phase’
“When I first started talking about golf in Saudi, it was difficult. It was not only about playing golf, but it was about not being able to participate,” said the Saudi master’s candidate of football.
“In the 1970s, when I played here in golf school, it was not possible for me to come to play golf in Saudi Arabia. It was even difficult for me to even organize the event on my own, because the idea of permitting golf was taboo for all kinds of businessmen. So, they kept it for very small groups of people.
“Golf in Saudi — it’s a cultural issue.”
‘I don’t think golf is changing your mindset’
On top of cultural sensitivities, Americans are concerned about the general climate of the country.
“I remember when I was in New York, two days before the 9/11 attacks, I said to two women to contact me if they needed to play in Saudi Arabia. They both sent me back the message: ‘No.’ In the United States, women are allowed in some areas, not all areas. This was not the case in Saudi Arabia,” Islam said.
Islam and Pedersen talked to CNN about their first time on the course in Saudi Arabia.