Big names, big money, and big pushbacks at LIV Golf’s Oregon event

North Plains, Ore. – The Saudi government-backed LIV golf invitation series arrived in the United States on Thursday as it played a decent game with slogans promising “golf, but loud”. Other than that, it’s probably not the kind of noise that was in the minds of his supporters.

Some are fiercely opposed to holding a three-day tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. Dislikes have come from politicians, 9/11 survivors’ groups and family members, club members resigning in protest, and at least one outspoken club board member. Critics have denounced what Saudi Arabia has described as an attempt to use games to soften Western perceptions of its serious human rights record.

Portland is the first of five LIVs (Roman numerals referring to the 54-hole format) to be held in the United States this year. Marquee players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka have joined the Saudi effort, making the newly created tour a quick threat to the long-established PGA Tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-figure participation fee.

The Portland tournament is set to take place as local anger still erupts after the death of Fallen Smart, a 15-year-old high school student in 2016 who was killed by a driver traveling 60 miles per hour while crossing the Portland road. The Saudi Community College student, facing serious charges of homicide and hit and run for Smart’s death, removed the tracking device and disappeared before the test, apparently returning home with the help of Saudi authorities.

Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden is urging Smart to get justice and urging the White House to hold Saudis more accountable. He has criticized the LIV golf tournament, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, as an attempt to clean up the country’s human rights reputation, a tactic known as sportwashing.

“No matter how much they cough, they won’t be able to wash away that reputation,” Wyden said in an interview. Referring to Smart’s death, he added, “The Saudis would not have chosen a more humiliating and painful venue to host a golf tournament.”

Teri Lenahan, mayor of the small North Plains with a population of 3,440, has signed a letter objecting to the LIV contest, along with 10 other mayors in the region, though he admits he can’t stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge have resigned in protest.

Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are planning a news conference for Thursday to take money from a country they call the “golfers’” entanglement “whose citizens include 15 of the 19 kidnappers.

Critics of the tournament noted that U.S. intelligence officials concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the real leader of Saudi Arabia, had ordered the killing and dismemberment of dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; In Saudi Arabia, 81 men were hanged in a single day in March, calling into question the impartiality of its criminal justice system; And Saudi women are not allowed to drive until 2018 after a long ban, and yet they still need permission from male relatives to make many decisions in their lives.

“I really think it’s a moral obligation to speak up and say that we can’t support this golf tournament because of where the funding is coming from,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The problem is that the Saudi government has publicly hanged people, abused women and treated them as second-class citizens. And they killed a journalist and tore it to pieces. This is disgusting. “

Texas firm Escalant Golf, which owns the Pumpkin Ridge course, did not respond to requests for comment.

The LIV tournament will continue against the backdrop of realpolitics. As a candidate, President Biden vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “paraha” for Khashoggi’s assassination. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July to seek relief from the oil-rich state for rising gasoline prices in the United States.

In fact, the issue of human rights has repeatedly overtaken economic and marketing concerns in the international sports arena. For example, China was named to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2008 Summer Games. And N.B.A. Does strong business there. A recent ESPN report said the league’s main team owners have invested more than 10 10 billion in China.

Greg Norman, the golf legend who is the face of the LIV series, recently claimed that 23 sponsors of the PGA Tour are doing business worth more than $ 40 billion in Saudi Arabia, saying in an interview on Fox News: “The hypocrisy in all of this is huge. It is deafening. ”