Senators want answers from the PGA Tour about their Saudi partnership

When the PGA Tour comes to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to defend its controversial pact with the deep-pocketed Saudi Public Investment Fund, there will likely be aggressive, pointed questions. And there may not be many definitive answers.

Late. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is leading the investigation into the tour’s surprise alliance with the LIV Golf benefactors, was unable to get any of the speakers he originally requested for Tuesday’s hearing. So even before a single golf executive is sworn in, Blumenthal vowed to call for further hearings on the matter and said he expects the Saudi investors to come to Congress and explain the deal.

“This hearing is far from the last we’re going to have,” Blumenthal said in an interview, “in part because they may not be able to answer our questions at this time. And if they can’t, we want to know , who will answer them in the future, and we will ask them to come.”

More than a month after announcing the shock partnership, the PGA Tour still faces significant resistance in selling the deal to its members, key stakeholders and the wider golf community. On Saturday, Randall Stephenson, the former AT&T executive, resigned from the tour’s influential policy board after 11½ years, saying he had “serious concerns” about the alliance.

The subcommittee’s investigation is one of two congressional investigations into the deal. Blumenthal launched his investigation on June 12, six days after the PGA Tour and PIF announced they would combine resources to form a new for-profit corporation that would oversee the commercial interests of the tour, LIV Golf and the Europe-based DP World Tour.

Blumenthal wanted to hear from Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner; Greg Norman, CEO of LIV Golf; and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor who stands to become one of the most powerful people in golf if the deal is completed.

None of the three will appear on Tuesday. Norman and Al-Rumayyan cited scheduling conflicts. Monahan was on medical leave to recover from an unspecified medical condition, though he has since announced he will return to work next Monday.

Instead, the committee will question Jimmy Dunne, a member of the PGA Tour’s policy board who played a key role in negotiating the deal with the Saudis, and Ron Price, the tour’s chief operating officer. According to a person familiar with the situation, the tour offered to make Monahan available if the subcommittee would postpone the hearing until later this month, but the subcommittee declined.

Blumenthal said he wants to explore the genesis of the deal, what professional golf will look like under the new framework, what the Saudi influence will be and whether Congress needs to reconsider the tour’s tax-exempt status.

“The Saudis here are not just buying a team; they are taking over the sport,” he said. “The PIF is taking over golf globally and in America – the PGA Tour, which is a beloved, iconic American institution. And we have to be concerned about the impact on the national interest and economy. It’s a cultural touchstone and there is an impact on our national interest.”

With Norman out of the country, LIV Golf instead offered to send Gary Davidson, its acting director of operations and an executive at Performance54, the golf management company that helps run LIV. But the committee rejected the offer, according to a person familiar with the situation, preferring to hear from Norman.

Getting officials from the Public Investment Fund, who have been in contact with the subcommittee, to come before Congress promises to be even more difficult. As a senior Saudi leader, Al-Rummayan has never testified before Congress, and those close to the situation do not expect that to change.

Randall Stephenson steps down from PGA Tour policy board over LIV deal

Both the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have produced documents at the subcommittee’s request, and Blumenthal said the tour “appears to be playing ball” with the investigators. Asked if PIF cooperates, he said: “We’ll see.”

Tour leaders are expected to tell lawmakers that reaching a deal with the Saudis — and ending the costly lawsuit — is key to the tour’s long-term sustainability. The subcommittee does not have the power to void the agreement, although Blumenthal said “the truth has a way of sometimes putting pressure on the parties to change the agreement or go back to the drawing board on it.”

Congressional pressure is just one hurdle the deal faces. The tour’s political board must approve the final deal, which could still be weeks or months away, and the Justice Department must be satisfied that the partnership does not violate federal antitrust laws, which some legal analysts say could prove problematic.

Late. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, did not sign letters requesting documents, but he did sign letters asking golf executives to come to the hearing. In an interview, Johnson said he spoke with the tour’s Price ahead of the hearing and seemed sympathetic to the PGA’s position.

“I think Congress and the federal government are exacerbating or causing more problems than they are solving, which is one of the reasons why I probably thought the best thing to do is to take a hands-off attitude here, let the PGA sort this out themselves.” he said. “This is a difficult enough situation for the PGA without Congress getting involved, potentially negatively. We’ll see. I have responsibilities as a ranking member. I’ll try to play my role as constructively as possible.”

Johnson said he’s never seen a LIV Golf event — “I don’t even know where I can access it,” he said — but he sympathizes with the families of the 9/11 victims who feel betrayed of the PGA Tour.

“I understand the issue of sports washing,” he said. “At the same time, it seems the kingdom is trying to reform and spending an awful lot of money to reform. I’d like to believe that everyone, every nation is redeemable. I’d rather see them reform than not reform. If this was a of the ways it helps them do that, I don’t necessarily want to prevent it.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed to this report.

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