(Washington) Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) officials have agreed to invest more than US$1 billion in a new business entity controlled by the PGA Tour and Greg Norman would be ousted as Tour President LIV Golf if the deal between the Saudis and the US golf tour goes through, a PGA executive told the US Congress on Tuesday.
The pact allowing the PIF to invest in the PGA Tour shook the world of golf and forced the United States Congress and the United States Department of Justice to look into it, in order to determine whether whether or not it complied with US antitrust law. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has released documents about the discussions that took place ahead of Tuesday’s hearing — in which the architects of the merger and a PGA Tour executive should testify.
Among the findings of the subcommittee are discussions of the possibility of offering Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy their own team at LIV Golf, a proposal that would never have made it to the ears of the players.
There was no indication during the hearing on Tuesday that Congress was going to block the PGA from partnering with the Saudis.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, said he was troubled by the geopolitical implications of such an association. He recalled Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record. However, Republicans on the committee were more lenient toward the PGA and the threat it faces when it comes to the PIF, which manages about $600 billion in assets — about 500 times the value of the PGA.
“We are here because we are concerned about the purchase, by an absolute monarchy using its wealth, of an American institution,” Senator Blumenthal said.
On June 6, the PGA and the Saudi Fund agreed to drop all lawsuits against each other and instead unite their business interests into a new business entity, while maintaining the tour’s nonprofit status. When Blumenthal asked how much the Saudis had pledged to contribute to this new venture, PGA COO Ron Price swore “over $1 billion”.
Blumenthal tirelessly questioned Price and Jimmy Dunne, a PGA board member and key player in the Saudi deal, about why the Tour hadn’t tried to find alternative sources of funding in order to compete with the LIV circuit and the PIF. In response, Price and Dunne indicated that new business deals with other companies would not have prevented the LIV Tour and PIF from continuing their charm campaign with major PGA headliners.
“My main objective here is to quickly move on from this tumultuous time, so that there is only one professional golf circuit, for the benefit of players, fans, sponsors and volunteers,” said said Dunne.
Those opposed to the merger with the PIF recalled the kingdom’s human rights issues and the murder of journalist Jamal Khasshogi — an order from Mohammed bin Salman, according to the US intelligence service, but allegations that has always denied the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The PIF has already invested in several other professional sports, including soccer (Newcastle United, in the English Premier League) and Formula 1.
“There’s something smelly about the path you’ve taken and it’s because you’re giving in. It’s all about the money and that’s why there’s so much criticism, Mr. Price, Blumenthal said. The share that the Saudis will control will give it financial dominance. They will control the strings of the stock market. »
However, Republican Senator Rand Paul, who is a harsh critic of the Saudi regime, argued that Congress should not meddle in the business of a private company that wants to collaborate with the Saudis. He suggested that the United States reduce arms sales to Saudi Arabia. For his part, Republican Senator Ron Johnson hinted that the involvement of Saudi Arabia and international sport could lead to an improvement in the human rights situation in the kingdom.
“If the kingdom gets involved in golf and other sports, it can help modernize it, provide rights for women. Isn’t that a good thing? asked Johnson.
The documents released on Tuesday also spell out each person’s role in the negotiations on the Saudi side. Among them are Amanda Staveley, a British investor who notably facilitated the acquisition of Newcastle United and is now part of its board of directors, and Roger Devlin, a British businessman. Devlin was the first to approach Dunne to sound out interest in a possible merger with the LIV circuit, the documents show.
A memo from Staveley’s office titled “The Best of Both Worlds” includes the suggestion that Woods and McIlroy be awarded a team each, and suggests that the legendary golfers should play in 10 LIV Tour tournaments each year. Nothing in the documents, however, indicates whether Woods and McIlroy, who have always remained loyal to the PGA, were informed about this.
Woods has only played two tournaments this year and is recovering from ankle surgery. The injury stems from a traffic accident that occurred in Los Angeles in early 2021, which the American says severely limits his ability to compete in potential golf tournaments.