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PGA Tour vs. LIV Golf

PGA Tour secures major victory in antitrust case against LIV Golf

February 17, 2023
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Charlie Crowhurst/LIV Golf

A judge has ruled that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and its governor can be deposed and must produce documents in the ongoing litigation battles between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.

The decision is a major victory for the tour, as federal magistrate judge Susan van Keulen has rejected LIV’s arguments that the PIF and Yasir Al-Rumayyan are protected by sovereign immunity laws because Al-Rumayan’s conduct “falls within the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.” Should the ruling hold, it would give unprecedented access into the business dealings of the sovereign wealth fund, which Saudi Arabia has long fought to keep secret.

Late last month, the tour sought to add PIF and Al-Rumayyan to the suit, with the motion arguing that LIV is the end result of a “long-contrived plan” to take over professional golf as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which Golf Digest has detailed here. The PIF is the primary backer of LIV, and documents the PGA Tour obtained in discovery in December allege that PIF and Al-Rumayyan were “instrumental in inducing players to breach their tour contracts.” The tour argues Al-Rumayyan personally recruited players, “played an active role in contract negotiations, and expressly approved each of the player contracts—all while knowing that these deals would interfere with the players’ tour contracts.”

LIV argued that the PIF was a “mere investor,” but van Keulen has rejected those assertions, writing it was evident the PIF was “the moving force behind the founding, funding, oversight and operation of LIV.”

Al-Rumayyan, who is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, is considered the mastermind of the Golf Saudi and LIV Golf projects. Though Greg Norman has been the public-facing leader of LIV Golf, sources familiar with LIV tell Golf Digest Al-Rumayyan and Majed Al Sorour were the two people who had final say over LIV Golf/Golf Saudi matters. Last month Al Sorour was transitioned out of managing director of LIV Golf.

The judge did rule in LIV’s favor that the tour must narrow its scope of subpoenas, writing the subpoenas “suffer from overbreadth both in scope and number of requests.” However, the tour does have the right to reserve the subpoenas, granting an avenue to depose Al-Rumayyan.

LIV is expected to appeal the decision, which would then go to U.S. District court Judge Beth Freeman, who has already ruled against LIV and LIV members in a temporary restraining order last summer. LIV could then appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, a matter that would delay the antitrust case for months.

LIV Golf is scheduled to begin its 2023 season next week.