PGA Tour-Saudi deal comes under more scrutiny as senators call for DOJ review


Caryn Levy

A day after the U.S. Senate opened a probe into the recently proposed partnership between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), two senators also have asked the Department of Justice to review the deal for potential antitrust violations.

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed concerns to Attorney General Merrick Garland and assistant AG Jonathan Kanter in a letter that questions “potential legal and regulatory issues” from the new venture, including relating to the PGA Tour’s non-profit tax status.

Last week the PGA Tour and the PIF, along with the DP World Tour, announced “a landmark agreement to unify the game of golf, on a global basis” with the creation of a new for-profit entity. The move came on the one-year anniversary of the formal launch of LIV Golf, the league financed by the PIF, and 10 months after 11 LIV Golf members filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf announced they will mutually end all pending litigation between the entities.

Warren and Wyden noted the federal lawsuit between the tour and LIV Golf and used language from arguments the tour made against LIV, noting that it was not a rational economic actor and that it was “prepared to lose billions of dollars to leverage [U.S. golfers] and the sport of golf to 'sportswash' the Saudi government's deplorable reputation for human rights abuses."

"The PGA-LIV deal would make a U.S. organization complicit—and force American golfers and their fans to join this complicity—in the Saudi regime's latest attempt to sanitize its abuses by pouring funds into major sports leagues," the senators wrote.

The Justice Department is already involved in an ongoing investigation of the PGA Tour spurred by the advent of LIV Golf. The DOJ investigation has also spread to include other golf entities, including Augusta National Golf Club, the PGA of America and the USGA, which is hosting this week’s U.S. Open.

On Monday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations asked for records and communications between the tour and the PIF by June 26. According to Blumenthal, the deal “raises concerns about the Saudi government’s role in influencing this effort and the risks posed by a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution.” Blumenthal also mentioned the potential to review the tour’s tax-exempt status.

In a response to the Senate inquiry, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan sent a letter last week to Blumenthal, defending the tour’s actions in trying to stave off LIV in the courts and lamenting that the tour had been “largely left on our own to fend off the attacks,” rather than supported by Congress in those efforts.

Late Tuesday, the PGA Tour released a statement that Monahan was recuperating from a medical situation and that chief operating officer Ron Price and executive vice president Tyler Dennis would lead day-to-day operations of the tour in Monahan’s absence. No additional details about Monahan's condition were released.