LIV Golf Purchases PGA

Critics of the merger have suggested that the Saudis’ LIV Golf has in fact “purchased the PGA.”

PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan announced Wednesday the merger of the Professional Golfer’s Association of America (PGA) with LIV Golf, a Saudi-run sports entity owned by the Saudi-held Public Investment Fund, a $620 billion financial entity controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

LIV Golf, FedEx Cup
FedEx Cup, by Steve Burnsderivative, CC BY 2.0.

Critics of the merger have suggested that the Saudis have in fact “purchased the PGA,” whereas Monahan was quoted as saying that the transaction was “a great deal, which will bear itself out.” Sam Bogey, a writer for Golf Magazine, stated that “they said the same thing about Auschwitz and Dachau when they were created.”

Others cite Saudi Arabia’s recent history of human rights abuses, the murder of United States journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018, and Saudi Arabia’s alleged complicity in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, as reasons to refuse LIV Golf access to PGA players, good name, and resources.

LIV Golf burst onto the scene in 2022 when it was created out of whole cloth by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is fueled by Saudi petoleum revenue. The staged 54-hole matches (LIV is the Roman numeral for 54) have $25 million purses for a field of 48 players with no cuts.

Former FedEx PGA champ Dustin Johnson, crowned the initial tour champ, walked away with a lead in tour winnings of $36.7 million for the 2022 season, which encompassed some eight tour events. The tour for the 2023 season has been increased to 14 events. Even the worst finisher in the 48-man field will receive a minimum payout of $120,000. Former President and avid golfer Donald J. Trump has expressed an interest in joining the tour before he gets bogged down with campaigning for the 2024 presidential election. He has said that his caddie will be either former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or former Vice President Mike Pence.

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a severe critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was, according to U.S. government agents, murdered and then dismembered on Oct. 2, 2018. The Saudi government has denied any involvement in the killing. Saudi Arabia has also been under fire for targeting Saudi dissidents residing in foreign lands and for systematic persecution of LGBTQ citizens of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps significantly, one of LIV Golf’s major sponsors in 2023 is Ginsu Knives, another consumer brand purchased by PIF. A principal spokesperson for Ginsu is tour participant Phil Mickelson. “They get the job done,” Mickelson said succinctly.

The PGA originally suspended members who opted to join LIV Golf, citing 911, LGBTQ discrimination, Khashoggi, and other abuses, but PGA officials today contend that the merger is a step in the right direction. According to 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, he is “always in support of anything that is good for golf,” despite his objections to LIV Golf over the past year. Khashoggi’s four children have each received million-dollar homes and five-figure monthly stipends because, says bin Salman, he always feels sorry for orphans.

Saudi Arabia has enjoyed active participation in American politics since the election of President Donald J. Trump in 2016. Donald Trump’s close advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, recently secured a PIF investment in his new equity fund, Liberty Partners, in the amount of $2 billion. Former Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin likewise secured an investment in his group, Liberty Strategic Capital, to the tune of $1 billion. Mnuchin allegedly “did favors” for the House of Saud, and Kushner, while he was “neutral” in his treatment of the Saudis, did engineer the sale of $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia during his tenure as Trump’s aide.

Controversy is not unknown to the PGA. Long a dominion of straight white men, the first black golfer was not allowed to play at the Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA’s preeminent golfing venue, until 1990, and women were disallowed until as late as 2012, and then only with the proviso that their tee times be set at 6 a.m. and that they wear hot pants. According to Nicklaus, “this, too, was good for golf.”

Bill Tope