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PGA Tour defends PIF partnership before Senate

Ron Price, Jimmy Dunne Ron Price, Jimmy Dunne - The Canadian Press

A day in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee looking into the proposed investment by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia into the PGA Tour has pulled back the curtain on everything from how the two sides first met to possibly turfing LIV CEO Greg Norman.

The PGA Tour’s chief operating officer Ron Price and independent board member Jimmy Dunne sat before a gathering of senators who grilled the two on various aspects of the framework agreement that was announced on June 6. A 278-page memorandum that included a variety of supporting documents and communication between various parties was released just ahead of the hearing, which took place on Capitol Hill.

When asked by the head of the committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal, why the PGA Tour entered the arrangement, Price characterized it as a necessity due to the financial strain the PGA Tour was experiencing from the ongoing legal costs as well as the bitter rivalry with LIV that was wearing it down emotionally.

These were the main reasons why the two sides agreed to meet, albeit at first secretly and without the knowledge of tour players.

"It was very clear to us and to all who loved the PGA Tour and the game of golf as a whole, that the dispute was undermining the growth of our sport and it was threatening the very survival of the PGA Tour," said Price. "It was unsustainable."

Dunne and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the head of the PIF, first met in person in London, England on April 23, 2023, to discuss a potential deal between PGA Tour and PIF. More meetings followed with a few more people over the ensuing months, but the discussion group was kept small.

In those meetings, both sides made proposals that seemed somewhat outrageous. Among the PIF requests was that Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods both become owners of LIV teams and play 10 LIV events a year, that Official World Ranking Points be given retroactively to all LIV players, and that Al-Rumayyan be given memberships into the R&A and Augusta National GC.

The PGA Tour asked that a side agreement be enacted that would terminate Norman’s tenure as LIV CEO. Norman has been especially critical of the PGA Tour during the existence of LIV.

None of these proposals made it into the framework agreement that has been signed by the two parties, the committee was told. 

The two PGA Tour representatives did face some tough questions, notably about working with the Saudis and that country’s human rights record.

They were also asked if they felt any remorse at setting up a company along with those from a country that aided the World Trade Center attackers. A group of family members of those killed in the attacks sat in the front row of the public gallery. One dropped what appeared to be a large document in front of Dunne mid-way through the proceedings.

When asked, Price also admitted that the tour has not looked for any other sources of funding at this point, something that didn’t go over well with Blumenthal.

“There is something that stinks about this path that you’re on right now because it is a surrender,” he stated. “And it is all about the money, and that’s the reason for the backlash that you’ve seen.”

The two PGA Tour representatives did provide some information, notably that the PIF investment in the new company would be north of $1 billion but that the tour would retain control. As well there have been continued negotiations on moving towards an agreement. However, it is still in the very early stages of the process.

“All we have at the moment is a framework agreement,” said Dunne. “Everything else is aspirational.”

Norman and Al-Rumayyan were invited to appear before the subcommittee, but both said scheduling conflicts would prevent them from attending.