senate hearing

Secret meetings, a Tiger request, ANGC membership: 15 explosive takeaways from Congressional hearing on PGA Tour-Saudi PIF

July 11, 2023


PGA Tour COO Ron Price and board member Jimmy Dunne did their best to keep the fireworks at bay on Tuesday in front of the United States Senate, cooperating but rarely providing color in their testimony regarding the PGA Tour’s planned partnership with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund. But those doing the questioning made sure the proceedings were entertaining, and occasionally informative, with a 276-page document dump at the hearing’s onset offering a number of surprising admissions in the wake of the June 6 announcement of a framework arrangement between the tour, the PIF and the DP World Tour. For those who missed Tuesday's three-hour hearing on Capitol Hill, here are 15 takeaways:

The tour proposed LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman would be terminated

In his opening remarks Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted a side agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF that sought to have Norman terminated. According to a PGA Tour spokesperson, the side agreement was never signed; however, Price, when asked about Norman by Blumenthal during the hearing, said that if an agreement does move forward "we would not have a requirement for that type of position." Norman has been telling LIV players and staff members that LIV Golf will return for 2024 and beyond, but there is no guarantee the fledgling circuit will continue, and Norman is not mentioned anywhere in the framework agreement.

There is a non-disparagement clause

Senator Blumenthal brought up that the PGA Tour has a non-disparagement clause that prevents the tour from saying anything negative or critical of Saudi Arabia. Though these types of provisions are relatively common in negotiations, the agreement was noteworthy given the outcry over Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. “It’s hard to get something done when you’re saying bad things about [the other group],” Dunne noted. “In this country we believe in free speech. If we don’t, it’s gone.” Price did say he doesn’t envision a similar provision applying to PGA Tour players but could not say for certain.

The PIF investment in the new alliance is whopping

In response to Senator Blumenthal’s question, “What is the amount of the Saudi investment that is going to be made? What are the amounts that have been discussed?” Price said investment will be “significant … north of $1 billion.” That’s billion with a B, which is about the same number as the tour’s net assets last year ($1.3 billion).

Saudi's PIF wants to sponsor at least two PGA Tour designated events, one being in Saudi Arabia

This was among some of the notable proposals in a slideshow titled, "The Best of Both Worlds.” Also among the proposals:

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy to captain and play on LIV teams

The Saudi proposal also wanted Woods and McIlroy to play in 10 events. The proposal was rejected by the PGA Tour.

Rory McIlroy met with PIF Governor

In late 2022, a rendezvous was arranged between McIlroy and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, according to documents released by the Senate. “It was a very cordial and constructive meeting ... He [Al-Rumayyan] has been frustrated by his inability to engage constructively with the PGA,” the document reads. “In our meeting, Rory and His Excellency talked of the need for compromise to benefit the game’s stakeholders, be it players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors and charities.” The document also states McIlroy “was seeking no personal financial gain, he was simply trying to unify the game.”

The tour has a friend in Senator Ron Johnson

The Republican from Wisconsin did not so much ask questions of Price and Dunne as he did play devil’s advocate for why the tour had no choice but to explore a partnership with the Saudis. “I don’t see the PGA Tour as doing anything wrong here,” Johnson said in the hearing. “The questions feel like there you did [something] wrong.” Johnson also pushed back against moral entanglements the PGA Tour might have in doing business with the Saudi regime. “Well listen, I have the deepest sympathy for 9/11 families, I understand the issue of sportswashing, I don’t think there’s any—there’s not enough billions of dollars for the Saudis to wash away the stain of the brutal [Jamal] Khashoggi murder,” Johnson said. “But the reality is we all buy oil, we use—we drive cars, we are the ones that are filling up the coffers of the Public Investment Fund.”

A senator was unaware PGA Tour China no longer exists

Everyone at the proceedings had an agenda, although no one’s was more apparent than Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who tried to grill Price about the existence of the tour’s developmental league in China. One problem: Hawley had no idea the league had not been operational since 2019. Worse, when given a chance to speak later in the hearing, Hawley doubled down, trying to ascertain if the tour still had an agreement with China. Price said to his knowledge the tour does not plan on continuing operations in the country. The league was initially paused due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The PGA Tour wanted a 'softball segment' with CNBC

Regarding the rushed announcement, Saudi and LIV advisor Michael Klein asserted the need for the Tour-PIF relationship to look true and to set the narrative off the jump, one that would be supported by a “softball segment” on CNBC. “The press teams are aligned on this. They are also taking all of the recent lessons from the Boeing Saudi announcements, which went extremely well in DC, nationally, and internationally. The worst thing we can do is have naysayers lead the chorus.” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and PIF governor Al-Rumayyan ultimately announced the partnership during a CNBC appearance.

The PGA Tour didn’t want the PIF’s lawyers to look at the agreement

This was according to Dunne: “We were afraid if the other sides’ lawyers found out the agreement would be gone.” Speaking of lawyers …

The framework was just to end the litigation

Price and Dunne were adamant that the tour messed up the messaging of the alliance. According to Dunne, he would have wanted the initial announcement to be that the litigation was over between the tour and PIF, and that PIF would be looking into being an investor in the tour. This echoed what Price wrote in an op-ed in The Athletic Monday.

The deal is not a merger

This has been another talking point from the tour after the word “merger” was used in the initial joint press release. Instead, Price and Dunne said, the PGA Tour will remain intact, with the PIF contributing to the new for-profit entity as a minority investor.

A fiery admission

Price and Dunne admirably represented the tour, defending the league as best as they could. However, the tour has been adament throughout the past two years that it was operating from a position of power. Dunne countered that sentiment by admitting that “LIV put us on fire” regarding its own actions. That quote will certainly shouted by LIV supporters should the deal ultimately not come to fruition.

What went unsaid

One of the biggest questions entering into the hearing was why the tour kept its negotiations with PIF so secret, a question Blumenthal raised multiple times. Dunne would only say that the discussions were “fragile.” Blumenthal noted, “Most executives and CEOs are legally and morally obligated to keep board of directors informed.”

And finally …

PIF governor wanted Augusta National membership as part of agreement

There’s the distinct possibility that the past two years of civil war in professional golf were caused by a man trying to backdoor his way into a green jacket.