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PGA Tour Faces Congressional Probe Over Controversial Saudi Deal

 |  July 10, 2023

The PGA Tour is facing the unforgiving spotlight of Congress on Tuesday when it arrives to Capitol Hill to answer questions about its controversial deal with the deep-pocketed Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The deal, which was initially announced back in June, caught golf fans, players, and stakeholders off guard and raised eyebrows, as it seemingly gives a foreign government involved in the sport. On Saturday, things turned even more sour for the Tour, when former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson resigned from the PGA policy board due to his “serious concerns” with the deal.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations leading the probe into the Tour’s alliance with the LIV Golf benefactors, was initially unable to get the speakers he requested for Tuesday’s hearing including Jay Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner; Greg Norman, LIV Golf Chief Executive; and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, PIF Governor. For Tuesday’s hearing, the committee will be questioning Jimmy Dunne, a member of the PGA Tour’s policy board who played a key role in negotiating the deal with the Saudis, and Ron Price, the tour’s chief operating officer.

Related: LIV Golf, PGA Tour Seek Dismissal Of Federal Antitrust Case

“During this intense battle, we met with several members of Congress and policy experts to discuss the PIF’s attempt to take over the game of golf in the United States, and suggested ways that Congress could support us in these efforts,” Monahan, PGA Tour Commissioner, states.

Price, in an op-ed in The Athletic on Monday, defended the deal and explained why it was the best outcome for the future of golf. Price, PGA COO, states, “Given the well-chronicled legal disputes that have existed between the PGA Tour and PIF, we understand the fair and valid questions raised by PGA Tour members, Tour partners, media, fans and now Congress.”

Critics have accused the fund of ‘sportswashing,’ or using LIV and other sports investments to improve the image of the oil-rich nation and distract from the kingdom’s history of human rights violations. This was an issue raised by Stephenson in his resignation letter on Saturday to fellow board members, pointing to the U.S. Intelligence report in 2021 that showed the Saudi crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill the journalist Khashoggi in 2018.

Blumenthal launched his investigation on June 12, six days after the PGA Tour and PIF announced they would combine resources to form a new for-profit company that would oversee the commercial interests of the tour, LIV Golf, and the Europe-based DP World Tour. Blumenthal will be looking into the deal’s genesis, what professional golf will look like under the new framework, what the Saudi influence will be, and whether Congress needs to re-examine the tour’s tax-exempt status.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, did not sign onto letters requesting documents, but he did sign letters requesting the golf executives appear at the hearing. Johnson said when speaking of the deal, “I think Congress and the federal government exacerbates or causes more problems than it solves, which is one of the reasons I thought probably the best thing you can do is take a hands-off attitude here, let the PGA sort this out themselves. This is a difficult enough situation for the PGA without Congress meddling in it, potentially negatively.”

An agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf could be weeks or months away, and it still needs to be approved by the PGA tour’s policy board and the Justice Department would need to be satisfied that the partnership doesn’t violate federal antitrust laws.

Though, Blumenthal said “This hearing is far from the last that we’re going to have, in part because they may not be able to answer our questions at this point. And if they can’t, we want to know who’s going to answer them in the future, and we’ll ask them to come.”

The Saudi-backed LIV Golf deal has taken the sports world by storm, raising questions of sovereignty, human rights, and interests of the U.S. With the inner workings of the deal still remaining confidential, and the agreement pending approval from both the tour’s policy board and the Justice Department, it’s likely that the golf world won’t be getting to the bottom of the LIV deal until Tuesday’s hearing.