PGA-LIV Golf Partnership Questioned in Senate Committee

July 12, 2023 by Carter Schaffer
PGA-LIV Golf Partnership Questioned in Senate Committee
PGA Tour COO Ron Price testifies before a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — A congressional subcommittee on Tuesday spent hours scrutinizing a $1 billion proposal to create a new golf competition controlled by the PGA Tour, a business plan that inspired controversy due to the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.

The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations questioned two PGA Tour witnesses on Tuesday — Chief Operating Officer Ron Price and board member Jimmy Dunne — regarding their partnership with LIV Golf. LIV Golf, originally a competitor to the PGA Tour, is backed by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

The two were questioned on the PGA’s future affiliation with Saudi Arabia and subsequently China, speech and other protections for members of the PGA Tour and what the partnership means for the future of golf.

Both Chair Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and ranking member Ron Johnson, R-Wis., included Saudi Arabia’s human rights controversies and the Sept. 11 attacks in their opening remarks. Dunne committed to talking with the families of 9/11 after the meeting, many of whom were at the hearing.

Price opened his remarks stating the PGA’s reasoning for joining LIV Golf, including their framework negotiations would allow the PGA Tour to “operate fundamentally as it does today.”

“It was very clear to us, and to all who love the PGA Tour and the game of golf as a whole, that the dispute was undermining the growth of our sport and was threatening the very survival of the PGA Tour, and it was unsustainable,” Price said.

“Instead of losing control of the PGA Tour, we pursued a peace that would not only end the divisive litigation battles, but would also maintain the PGA Tour’s structure, mission and long-standing support for charity,” he added.

Although framework negotiations have taken place, Dunne said no deal has been settled, and the spotlight on the deal has made negotiations difficult.

“There is no merger, there is no deal, there is simply an agreement to come to an agreement and settle the lawsuits,” Dunne said. “There’s nothing there yet, and we’re having the reality of having to try to figure out something which is done in unbelievable transparency.”

Price said LIV Golf has been successful in taking PGA Tour players through its “irrational business model.”

“That puts pressure on our ability to maintain our primary revenue sources, and if they continued to do that, we would, as you [Johnson] said, have faced an existential threat,” Price said.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has an estimated $650 billion in assets, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, compared to the PGA Tour’s $1.5 billion, according to Golf Digest.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., questioned Price on previous China affiliations and investments from Yao Capitol. Price said they have not had any China golf series since 2019, and they have “no present plans” to host any series or tour events in China.

Blumenthal asked Price if the PGA Tour would punish players if they criticize the kingdom of Saudi Arabia or its human rights concerns, pointing to the “broad” non-disparagement clause in the agreement. Price said, “We will protect our players proudly.”

“Our position is that the players are free to speak their mind under that [non-disparagement clause] agreement and that’s the way we’ve interpreted it,” Price said.

“We are a member organization and we always take our player interest very importantly and we would try to protect their interests,” he added.

Blumenthal said their inquiry would continue and they will ask the other witnesses who did not appear — PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman — to come share their perspectives. Dunne said he would support that effort.

“The more we know, the more we can support the values and freedoms that we have espoused here today, and the ideals of professional golf and the PGA Tour,” Blumenthal said.

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