Where Glamour meets Dushanbe: In Saudi Arabia, a golf club is breaking barriers

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

Calling ahead for appointments with the Saudi Ladies International Golf Club, I make my way to a reception with an array of African women playing golf. They’re all former US Open champion, playing from six to 10 years old.

Jun Mai Gaku looks like a beauty queen. The 19-year-old Japanese is among a large group from the Asian countries who have enrolled at the country’s renowned Alpha Girls School — a training ground for young female golf professionals.

But while the students head to Riyad for three weeks of preparation, Mai Gaku has attended a different kind of training. Last weekend, she was part of a six-person team participating in a PGA Professional Development Coaches Clinic on the other side of the Arabian Gulf.

A tight-knit golf community

The Saudi Ladies International Golf Club is intended to give women new opportunities. In addition to its pro-am, the club hosts events, including women’s golf clinics and educational seminars with male players.

“The Saudi Ladies Golf Club does not tolerate discrimination. It’s in keeping with the moderate regime of the country,” the club’s executive director Hani Suroor told CNN.

“It’s for ladies who want to learn from professionals in the region.”

There are just seven Saudi golf courses, which cater to Saudi males. Suroor is hoping to start 12 more during the next few years.

“We are a new sport,” he said. “There are many challenges in this space.”

There are no golf courses in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain.

And the Saudi Ladies International Golf Club is striving to accommodate the accommodation needs of all guests, including men.

“They are actually caring for the ladies, whether it’s whether a ladies is driving off alone or whether it’s with a driving instructor and a son or a husband,” said Spanish golfer Rosie Jones, who worked with the club in the past and returns for this tournament.

The course is officially open to both sexes, but for the tournament only a portion of the women players are permitted to tee it up. In the future, Suroor hopes to expand the scheme to further reach men.

More golfers are joining the development. Former world No.1 and US Open champion, Michelle Wie, is already playing in the pro-am.

Muhammad-Nazeer, a seven-year-old Saudi boy, is going to take part in the championship, too.

Not the American dream, but a dream worth pursuing

Muhammad-Nazeer, a seven-year-old boy, is set to take part in the Saudi Ladies International Golf Club’s championship.

Jun Mai Gaku (CNN) — When she was four years old, Jun Mai Gaku visited Justin Timberlake’s palace in Dubai.

When she was eight, her family moved to Los Angeles so that she could attend the expensive Mira Academy of Mathematics, Science and Arts.

Two years ago, she became the youngest player ever to win the UAE Ladies Amateur Championship.

Today, the golfer from Tottori Prefecture is the youngest ever professional golf professional at the Riyadh Ladies International Golf Club, at nine years and 12 months.

Juggling family, education and demanding training is not easy, but she believes it is possible.

“I am just part of my family,” she says. “Even if I’m winning tournaments, they are proud of me. It doesn’t matter if they are watching from home.”

But, more is needed, Muhammad-Nazeer believes.

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