Lydia Ko will make her debut in Saudi Arabia at next week’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International, followed by the Aramco Team Series Jeddah, the fourth and final leg of the Saudi-backed series that included stops in London, Sotogrande and New York.
The Jeddah event will be held opposite the LPGA’s Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair, Florida.
With only one event remaining on the LPGA schedule after Pelican – the CME Group Tour Championship – Ko will be the latest player out of the running for this year’s Vare Trophy. To be eligible for the Vare, awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average for the season, players must compete in 70 rounds or 70 percent of official tournament rounds, whichever is less. In this case, that would be 70 rounds. Ko currently has 65 official rounds for the season. The CME would put her at 69, one short.
Ko currently ranks fourth on tour in scoring average at 69.615. The three players ahead of her on the list, Nelly Korda (69.074), Jin Young Ko (69.186) and Inbee Park (69.534) will not meet the minimum number of rounds required.
The next player who is eligible to win: In Gee Chun at 69.794. Chun currently has 68 official rounds.
Players must earn 27 points to be eligible for the LPGA Hall of Fame. Ko currently has 19 points. She has never won the Vare Trophy.
“This will be my first visit to the Kingdom,” Ko said in a release, “but having watched some of last year’s debut Saudi events, the Aramco Team Series tournaments this year, and having heard only good things from the girls on Tour, the Aramco Saudi Ladies International presented by PIF is an event I am really excited to be part of.
“Being able to play in different countries around the world and inspire more young people and young girls especially into golf is something that I never take for granted. I know the impact this event had with Saudi girls last year – with more than 1,000 signing up to learn to play – so it sounds like I’ll be playing in somewhere that’s really starting to fall in love with golf.”
Golfweek has reached out to Ko’s agent to see if the former No. 1 was aware of where she stood in the Vare race.
Other LPGA players who will be competing in Saudi Arabia include major winners Anna Nordqvist, Minjee Lee, Georgia Hall and Laura Davies.
Two events will be held over the course of nine days. The first tournament will be staged Nov. 4-7 and the second Nov. 10-12. Both events feature $1 million purses, and Emily Kristine Pedersen will return to defend. Last year marked the first professional women’s event ever held on Saudi soil.
Charley Hull, who won the third leg of the series in New York, will be on hand as well as fellow Solheim Cup teammate Carlota Ciganda.
The LET-sanctioned events are backed by the government of Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund, the same group that’s behind Liv Golf Enterprises, the new men’s series with Greg Norman at the helm that was reported on Friday by various outlets, including ESPN.
Of the 19 events on the LET schedule that are not co-sanctioned with the LPGA, five are backed by Golf Saudi.
While some of Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory laws against women have relaxed in recent years – women can now drive cars and travel abroad without permission from their male guardian – it remains one of the most gender-segregated countries in the world.