Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf gets a cool reception in Oregon, its first stop in the United States.
In the coming week, the series, which pays huge contract fees for players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, steps up to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on the tiny North Plains, nestled in the rolling hills west of Portland.
But the mayor of North Plains, as well as officials from surrounding towns, have written to the club’s owner, Escalante Golf, with concerns. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has spoken out against the tournament, and some members of the expensive club are also uncomfortable with the situation.
Opponents point to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, including the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there’s trouble about that in Oregon, too 15-year-old Fallon Smart hit and run in 2016.
Saudi student Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah was facing a first-degree murder trial when he removed a tracking device and disappeared. US authorities believe the Saudi government helped arrange a fake passport and provided a private jet for the return trip to Saudi Arabia. The case was featured in 60 Minutes.
“It is wrong to remain silent when Saudi Arabia tries to clean the bloodstained hands fighting for the citizens of Oregon to get justice – Fallon Smart was killed very close to our home in southeast Portland, and the person , which is charged with the crime, was a hit. and death, based on all evidence, was taken out of the country by the Saudis before he stood trial,” Wyden said in an interview with The Associated Press.
There is also concern that the event could bring protests to North Plains, a town of just 3,400 people. Tickets to the event prohibit fans from making political statements.
“We oppose this event because it is sponsored by a repressive government with documented human rights abuses. We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard,” read a letter signed by North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan and 10 other mayors from surrounding cities.
Wyden accuses the Saudi government of sports laundry.
“It’s just a page from the playbook of autocrats covering up injustices by abusing athletics in hopes of normalizing their abuse,” he said.
The event has also put Pumpkin Ridge members in a difficult position. Some chose to leave the club during the tournament, but it’s unclear how many have left.
“A lot of members are stuck right now between a rock and a hard place where they don’t agree at all politically,” said Beaverton member Kevin Palmer. “But I also joined last year and deposited about $12,000 and if I leave, I’m not getting any of that money back.”
Greg Norman is CEO of LIV Golf Investments and the face of a circuit looking to rival the PGA Tour. The 48-man field in Portland will have 12 teams competing for a purse of $20 million in individual play and $5 million in team play. The teams will be announced on Tuesday after a draft.
Johnson, who has been world No. 1 for longer than any player since Tiger Woods, and six-time major champion Mickelson were among the first big names to join. The Portland field has since added Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, all great champions, although none are among the current top 20 players in the world rankings.
The PGA Tour suspended all members who competed in the first LIV event for not having conflicting event releases. Those in Portland will also be suspended if they serve.
The tour typically awards three such releases a year, for overseas tournaments only. It does not allow its members to enter tournaments in North America.
The Portland event takes place the same week as the John Deere Classic in Illinois.
“The PGA Tour, an American institution, cannot compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars to buy the game of golf,” Commissioner Jay Monahan said last week. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not. It’s an irrational threat that doesn’t care about the game’s profitability or true growth.”
The LIV tour consists of eight events this year, five of them in the United States. After stopping in Portland, the tour moves to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.
Texas-based Escalante Golf, owner of Pumpkin Ridge and another LIV series course, did not respond to a request for comment.
“We believe we have a moral obligation to take a stand and speak out against this event to protect the people we serve,” the mayors wrote in their letter to the company. “While our local jurisdictions may not be able to prevent this event, we stand together to express our concern about the unwanted potential risks, visitors and damage this event could have to our communities.”
Associated Press coverage
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