Golf Course Architecture - Issue 64, April 2021

T he birth of golf in Saudi Arabia can be traced back to the geologist Max Steineke. It was his 1937 order to ‘keep on drilling’ that convinced executives of the Standard Oil Company of California to continue what had been a fruitless search. A year later, in the desert of the Eastern Province, a few miles from the Gulf coast, workers finally struck oil. Within a decade the oil firm – by then named Arabia American Oil Company, or Aramco – had discovered new fields, built a refinery and was exporting tanker loads across the world. To support this burgeoning industry, people were needed. At the same time, golf was surging in popularity among Americans. So it made sense for Aramco executives to shape golf holes from the sand at its Dhahran complex, providing an amenity to attract expatriates to its rapidly growing workforce. One of the earliest accounts of golf at Aramco was detailed in a July 1942 letter from chief petroleum engineer Philip McConnell to friends in the United States, written as British and German tank divisions were manoeuvring in the desert west of Cairo. An extract was published in the 2011 book about the history of Saudi Aramco, Energy to the World . “Midway between camp and the seashore lies a barren blazing waste, distinguished from other barren blazing wastes by a faint hint of soil caught in a great depression among the brown mushroom hills and sheltered there from the claws of the shemaal,” wrote McConnell. “It is within this garden spot that our golf course has been spread, a course consisting of nine tees, stakes to mark the limits of the otherwise undistinguishable fairways, nine oil-sanded greens and a great amount of otherwise idle desert. Occasionally, a herd of camels ambles over our greens, leaving deep pits in the carefully smoothed sand; or a pair of donkeys may patter across, distributing smaller but sharper pockets for the trapping of a perfect approach shot. The terms ‘fairway’ and ‘rough’ imply a distinction that is theoretical only. Fairways lie between Photo: 71