A top senator on Monday opened the first inquiry into the controversial deal between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, raising the alarm about “a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote to the heads of the two sports organizations requesting a slew of records related to the deal. Blumenthal highlighted documents that could shed light on the behavior of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which owns LIV Golf, as well as the PGA Tour’s tax-exempt status and any law enforcement investigations regarding the agreement or the previously contentious relationship between the two entities.
The Public Investment Fund “has announced that it intends to use investments in sports to further the Saudi government’s strategic objectives,” Blumenthal wrote in the letters, which he sent in his capacity as the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on investigations.
“Critics have cast such Saudi investments in sports as a means of ‘sportswashing’ — an attempt to soften the country’s image around the world — given Saudi Arabia’s deeply disturbing human rights record at home and abroad,” the senator continued.
The PGA Tour battled LIV after the latter’s inception last year, including in federal court, and many top golfers decried the Saudi gambit. The two agreed to drop their legal disputes after they announced their shocking plan for a merger last week.
The PGA Tour claims that it will have ultimate power over the new golf behemoth, noting that it will control the majority of board seats and its commissioner, Jay Monahan, will be the organization’s CEO. But many observers say that is extremely unlikely given the proposed organization’s reliance on a promised infusion of funding from the Saudi state.
“We are confident that once Congress learns more about how the PGA Tour will control this new venture, they will understand the opportunities this will create for our players, our communities and our sport, all while protecting an American golf institution,” Joel Schuchmann, a spokesperson for the PGA Tour, told HuffPost via email.
LIV Golf declined to comment on Blumenthal’s investigation. A representative for the PGA Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Congress has limited influence to block the deal between the two bodies, but Blumenthal and other skeptics could spur public uproar making it harder to achieve.
The group 9/11 Justice, which represents families of people killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., welcomed Blumenthal’s probe in a statement.
“This spineless money grab by the PGA Tour should not proceed without a full investigation by the U.S. government and now, thanks to Senator Blumenthal and some of his Congressional colleagues, that process seems to be underway,” said the group’s president, Brett Eagleson.
Though most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi citizens, the Saudi government denies any involvement in the assault, and U.S. government investigations have implicated specific Saudis but not the regime.
The PGA Tour repeatedly elevated 9/11 families’ concerns about the kingdom in its past criticism of LIV Golf.
“The PGA Tour, reversing course on its previous position ... now seems intent on aligning with and actively supporting Saudi Arabia’s massive, pervasive, and unrelenting global sportswashing campaign. We find this to be outrageous and un-American,” Eagleson said.
U.S. officials’ appetite for challenging Saudi Arabia has sharply plummeted in recent years after many policymakers pledged to press the kingdom over its close cooperation with Russia and actions like the state-sponsored assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise to rethink U.S.-Saudi ties led to few policy changes. And Republicans have shown little interest in questioning the golf organizations’ moves. Former President Donald Trump ― a pro-Saudi voice who is the GOP’s 2024 presidential front-runner ― has praised LIV, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Blumenthal’s counterpart on the Senate investigative panel, argued Capitol Hill has no role in the deal.