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JEDDAH: The Arab world’s first female golfer to compete on the Tour has revealed she never dreamt of seeing professional women’s golf come to Saudi Arabia — let alone a tournament she describes as “a huge step forward” in expanding the women’s game globally.

Moroccan Maha Haddioui, who has played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) since 2012, will be competing for a share of the $1 million prize pool in the Kingdom’s inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International golf tournament from March 19-22.

The four-day event at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast will feature many of the game’s biggest names in what will be Saudi Arabia’s first professional women’s competition.

Haddioui, 31, said that the tournament highlights the opportunities now available to Arabic women, with the Middle East helping to push women’s sport to new heights.

“I never thought I would go to Saudi Arabia to play golf. Now, to be able to represent Arab women’s golf in the Kingdom is amazing and something I never thought would happen.

“I’m excited that Arab countries are taking a step forward in helping women’s golf grow. The Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco has been one of the largest women’s tournaments for years. Now having Saudi Arabia up there with the biggest in the sport is something I’m hugely proud of as an Arab woman.

“I’m just happy to play in new events no matter where they are. Playing a professional women’s event in Saudi is amazing and proof that things are moving forward. I am so proud to be part of that and to have the LET be part of that.”

Asked about the impact a leading women’s event such as the Tour could have on the Kingdom, Haddioui said that it could help transform the sporting ambitions of the Kingdom’s women. 

“As a professional player, I get a lot of questions along the lines of: ‘Is this your job? How can you have this as a job?’ In response, I always offer the comparison with professional football players, and how they travel the world playing their sport. As soon as I explain that it opens people’s minds and they understand that a woman from our culture, from our part of the world, can do a job like this.

“When young girls look at that, they realize they can do the same — and not just with golf, but with any sport. I think it’s important to have someone you can look to who has already done these things, reached those levels. I pride myself in being able to demonstrate that.

“When I was still an amateur and thinking of turning pro, because no one had done it before, everyone all told me ‘No.’ They almost kind of joked about it. Today, young girls in Morocco and places such as Saudi Arabia who are thinking about golf and want to take it seriously don’t see it as a joke anymore — because somebody has done it. That is something I’m proud of and I hope will produce more Arab sportswomen in the future.”

The Aramco Saudi Ladies International will include England’s two-time LET Order of Merit winner Georgia Hall, last weekend’s NSW Open champion Julia Engstrom, 12-time LET tournament winner Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, and a host of Solheim Cup and international players.

The tournament will also feature a family entertainment zone with food trucks, games and challenges.

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