U.S. Senate subpoenas PIF regarding PGA Tour partnership, 'takeover of American golf'

September 13, 2023

Rob Carr

The United States Senate has issued a subpoena to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund’s U.S. subsidiary in the wake of PIF’s planned partnership with the PGA Tour.

The announcement was made an hour before Wednesday’s public hearing by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is expected to focus on PIF’s investments in the United States. PIF governor and LIV Golf boss Yasir Al-Rumayyan has repeatedly evaded testifying before the subcommittee, and no PIF, tour or LIV Golf officials are expected to appear at Wednesday’s hearing. The notice calls for “documents related to PIF’s takeover of American golf and other investments throughout the United States.”

“The Saudi’s Public Investment Fund cannot have it both ways: if it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight,” said Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal in a statement. “That oversight includes this subcommittee’s inquiry.”

In a letter made public last month, Blumenthal of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations pushed back on Al-Rumayyan’s claim that he qualifies as an “inappropriate witness.” According to Blumenthal, Al-Rumayyan and his counsel have argued he is a “minister bound by the Kingdom’s laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information” and that the subcommittee’s request for documents from PIF raises significant legal considerations due to diplomatic immunity. However, as Blumenthal notes, this is the same argument that Al-Rumayyan unsuccessfully made in the PGA Tour’s countersuit against LIV Golf. In February, federal magistrate judge Susan van Keulen rejected LIV’s arguments that the PIF and Al-Rumayyan were protected by sovereign immunity laws because Al-Rumayan’s conduct “falls within the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.”

Al-Rumayyan is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle and considered the mastermind of the Golf Saudi and LIV Golf projects. It was Al-Rumayyan who brokered a framework agreement with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and board members Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy, a deal that paused a contentious year-long battle in the professional game and ended litigation between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. He also appeared with Monahan on CNBC in a televised interview to announce the proposed deal.

Though the PGA Tour maintains it controls LIV Golf’s destiny as part of the proposed deal, Al-Rumayyan has asserted to LIV Golf members and staff that the league will continue, and documents released by Congress contain language in the framework agreement that may give Al-Rumayyan final say over the matter. Al-Rumayyan is also expected to be the chairman of the new for-profit entity created by PIF, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

Al-Rumayyan was invited to testify before the United States Senate in June, but he and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman declined due to scheduling issues. In August’s letter Blumenthal wrote, “Your apparent reluctance to voluntarily appear raises questions about the veracity of your previously cited scheduling conflicts.” Blumenthal promised that the PSI will pursue all avenues to get Al-Rumayyan to talk with the group.

According to Blumenthal, the proposed PGA Tour-PIF 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.” The alliance could be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which analyzes mergers regarding potential threats to the nation’s security.

Blumenthal has threatened to strip the tour’s tax-exempt status over the Saudi deal, although the proposed partnership between the tour and PIF would be a for-profit entity. During the July 11 Senate hearing into the PGA Tour-PIF proposal, it was revealed that PIF will be investing more than $1 billion into the new venture, and that Al-Rumayyan had sought membership with Augusta National and the R&A as part of the deal.