LIV Golf attracts big names and harsh criticism in Oregon

NORTHERN PLAINS, Oregon. — The Saudi government-backed LIV Golf Invitational series arrives in the United States on Thursday as it continues to thrill the noble sport with a slogan that promises “Golf but louder.” But this is probably not the noise that his supporters had in mind.

Some strongly object to hosting a three-day tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. Disapproval came from politicians, a group of 9/11 survivors and their families, club members who resigned in protest, and at least one outspoken club board member. Critics have denounced what they call Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sports to soften Western perceptions of its dark human rights history.

Portland is the first of five LIV tournaments (Roman numeral for 54-hole format) to take place in the US this year. The newly formed Tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-figure entry fees, quickly became a threat to the long-established PGA Tour, as notable players like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka joined the Saudi effort.

The tournament in Portland will be held as local fury still simmers after Fallon Smart’s death in 2016, a 15-year-old high school student killed by a driver while crossing a Portland street at nearly 60 miles per hour. A Saudi Arabian college student facing manslaughter and hit-and-run charges over Smart’s death removed a tracking device and disappeared pending trial, returning home, apparently with the help of Saudi Arabian officials.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, is pushing hard for justice for Smart and pleading with the White House to hold the Saudis accountable. He criticized the LIV golf tournament, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, as an attempt to clean up the country’s reputation for human rights, a tactic known as “sports laundering.”

“No matter how much they cough, they can’t wash that reputation away,” Wyden said in an interview. Speaking of Smart’s death, he added: “The Saudis couldn’t have chosen a more offensive and painful venue for a golf tournament.”

Teri Lenahan, mayor of the tiny town of North Plains of 3,440, has signed a letter with 10 other mayors in the area opposing the LIV tournament, though they admit they can’t stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge resigned in protest.

Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 attacks scheduled a press conference for Thursday to discuss what they called the “voluntary complicity” of golfers to get money from the country of which 15 of the 19 hijackers were citizens.

Tournament critics note that US intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, ordered the assassination and dismemberment of dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; what In March, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in one day.questioning the fairness of its criminal justice system; and what Saudi women did not receive a driving permit until 2018 after a long-standing ban. and yet must obtain permission from a male relative to make many decisions in their lives.

“I really felt it was my moral duty to speak up and say that we cannot support this golf tournament because of where the funds to support it come from,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The problem is that the Saudi government is publicly executing people, oppressing women and treating them as second-class citizens. And the journalist was killed and dismembered. It’s disgusting. “

Escalante Golf, the Texan firm that owns Pumpkin Ridge, did not respond to requests for comment.

Tournament LIV will continue against the backdrop of realpolitik. As a candidate, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” for killing Khashoggi.. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July to, among other things, ask for help from the oil-rich kingdom in the face of a sharp rise in gasoline prices in the United States.

In truth, the issue of human rights often takes a backseat to financial and marketing issues in international sports. China, for example, has been nominated to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2008 Summer Games. And the NBA is doing an active business there. A recent report by ESPN states that the league’s major team owners have invested more than $10 billion in China.

The creation of the LIV Tour has resurfaced long-standing questions about the moral obligations of athletes and their desire to compete and earn money.

Speaking broadly, Wyden, who briefly played college basketball, said the Saudi approach is “really part of an authoritarian scenario.” He continued, “They go in and try to bribe everyone, buy their silence,” believing that “what upsets someone on Tuesday will be forgotten by everyone on Thursday.”

The Portland tournament will have a $25 million prize pool, including $5 million for a team game and $4 million for an individual winner.

At press conferences, golfers acknowledged the financial appeal of the LIV tour. And they said they respect different opinions about their participation. Some downplayed human rights issues, while others, such as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, said they thought golf could be a force for good.

“If we can help any country or any place in the world, we will,” Garcia said.

Pat Perez, an American journeyman golfer, candidly said that playing golf and being able to spend less time on the road in the LIV series was his “only concern.”

“I understand the topics you’re trying to bring up and these are terrible things, but I’m here to play golf,” Perez said. “This is my job.”

Koepka, former world number one. The first-place golfer and two-time winner of the US Open and the PGA Championship called Pérez’s words “almost accurate”, saying, “We’re here to play golf.”

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion, was asked if he was worried about the source of prize money at LIV events. DeChambeau said that he believes golf “is a force for good and I think over time people will hopefully see the good things they are doing and what they are trying to achieve instead of looking at the bad.” what happened before. He continued, “I think it’s important to move on.”

Andy McNeice, a Pumpkin Ridge board member who acts solely as an advisor, was unable to move on.

Escalante Golf, the owner of the club, seems only interested in the money to run the LIV tournament, McNeice said in an interview. As he told other reporters, McNeice said that Escalante sold his honor, the honor of Pumpkin Ridge, and “in a strange way they sold some of my honor and I don’t like it.”

He said he plans to visit the field to see the tournament setup, but will not be watching the competition. He gave his four tickets for each of the three days to others. Thus, according to McNeice, “LIV doesn’t get any money from them.”