The Open Championship: CEO drops Saudi bombshell as potential sponsor for R&A

The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (PIF) has over $720 billion in assets and has invested heavily in golf over the past few years.

Their next big investment could be The Open Championship, golf’s oldest major, played annually in Great Britain.

“The world of sport has changed dramatically in the last 12 months and it is not possible for the R&A or golf to simply ignore what is societal change on a global basis,” R&A CEO Martin Slumbers said on Wednesday ahead of The Open.

“We will, within all those parameters, consider that we look at all the options that we have,” he said in response to whether they would accept PIF as a sponsor of The Open.

Last year, PIF launched LIV Golf. The Saudi-backed league paid hundreds of millions of dollars to PGA Tour stars to join the circuit to make it known.

That includes former major champions Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, among others.

HOYLAKE, England – Phil Mickelson talks to fans on his way to the 3rd hole during a practice round ahead of The 151st Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on July 19, 2023.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

This year, on June 6, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Governor of the PIF, and Jay Monahan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour, appeared on CNBC to announce to the world that the PIF and the PGA Tour had entered into a commercial partnership for the future of men’s professional golf.

Now a major championship can be involved in PIF.

“We have a number of great corporate partners helping us make this thing happen,” Slumbers added. “I think the world has changed in the last year. It’s not just golf. You see it in football. You see it in F1. You see it in cricket. I’m sure tennis won’t be that far behind.”

PIF bought an 80% stake in Newcastle United of the English Premier League in 2021. Before that, Newcastle was a club that recalled its storied past while struggling in the present.

Now, with the PIF’s great wealth and great investment, Newcastle is one of the best clubs in England.

The sovereign wealth fund has also invested heavily in Formula 1 racing, cricket and the world tennis tour is reportedly nextaccording to the Associated Press on July 7.

Of course, Saudi Arabia has a long history of human rights violations, the subjugation of women, and the violation of homosexuality.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 attacks were also Saudi nationals, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also allegedly ordered the mutilation of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.

Despite this, the PGA Tour still entered into negotiations with the PIF and entered into an agreement in the spring of 2023.

PGA Tour Policy Board member Jimmy Dunne played a key role in these discussions, as did Monahan and Ed Herlihy, president of the PGA Tour.

Ron Price, Chief Operating Officer for the tour, also lent a hand.

“All credit, I think, goes to Jimmy and Ron, the way they handled themselves, and I was very impressed and glad I wasn’t in their shoes,” Slumbers admitted Wednesday, referring to the July 11 PGA-LIV Golf Senate hearing.

“I think we need to have a sensible conversation about the long-term financial viability of golf, and that, as you say, came up over the last few months.”

PGA Tour, Jimmy Dunne, Ron Price, Senate hearing

WASHINGTON — PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price and PGA Tour Policy Board member Jimmy Dunne testify during a Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations hearing investigating the business deal between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf on Capitol Hill July 11, 2023. In early June 2023, the PGA Tour announced a new deal for a golf deal, and a golf deal. , which will be heavily financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Since the inception of LIV Golf, the four governing bodies that facilitate the major championships have stayed out of the fray that was the PGA-LIV schism.

Yet Augusta National, which runs The Masters, the PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship; and the United States Golf Association (USGA), which offers the US Open, along with the R&A, have all allowed LIV golfers to compete in their tournaments.

Each of these governing bodies wanted to protect the integrity of their competitions by allowing anyone who qualified – often including former champions – to participate.

But what the past year has done is elevate the big four to a higher stratosphere.

They mean more because both PGA and LIV golfers can compete side by side.

Due to the PGA’s recent agreement with the PIF, the R&A may also see an opportunity to strengthen itself further.

“I want to make sure we leave golf – when I’ve done my time – in a stronger position than it is,” Slumbers added. “Stronger position for me is more people playing golf. There are a hundred million people now playing golf. Never happened before.”

“I think every one of us who work in the sport has a responsibility to think like that, even on the business side of professional golf.”

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Don’t forget to check out @_PlayingThrough too.

Leave a Comment