A PGA Tour executive told Congress on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund could invest more than $1 billion in an ambitious alliance to reshape professional golf — if it withstands scrutiny in Washington and skepticism and outrage over the Saudis’ expanding role. In the global game.
In questions that appeared before senators, from Godling to the prosecutor, the tour’s chief operating officer, Ron Price, said the amount of money paid from the wealth fund to a planned for-profit company was not final. But he acknowledged “discussions” that the investment could ultimately be “north of $1 billion.”
The approval, which comes amid congressional fury at times over suggestions that foreign money is pouring into golf, underscores the scale of Saudi Arabia’s growing ambitions in international sports, which include soccer and Formula 1 racing. However, the process also clarified the confusion over the framework agreement that has bedeviled professional golf since it was announced on June 6.
That deal was effectively a broad outline to create a not-for-profit entity that would include the business ventures of the PGA Tour, Selva Niti and DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour. There is little binding on the agreement other than a commitment to end the litigation, and negotiators hope to reach a sealed deal by the end of the year.
“Normally you don’t negotiate in public, but we’re committed to moving from a framework agreement to a concrete agreement,” Price said in an address to the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday.
Price said progress on the deal was essential to the tour’s survival, a fraction of the size of the wealth fund. In the tour’s estimation, the legal bills, bloated purses, etc. to keep the loyalty of top players are rising so fast that they will soon become unsustainable.
James J. Dunne III, a member who helped negotiate the opening agreement, James J. Dunne III said the wealth fund “has a management team that wants to destroy tourism.” “
“We know a long-term fight can be harmful,” Dunne said at one point during the hearing, a crowded Capitol Hill room that had previously been the site of Supreme Court confirmation hearings and meetings of the 9/11 Commission.
Tour executives are eager to show how the deal, albeit temporary, positions them to handle the day-to-day operations of professional golf. The tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, has been named chief executive of the new company, expected to be called PGA Tour Enterprises, and the tour is expected to fill most of the company’s board seats.
Executives were not interested in discussing how Yasir Al-Rumaian, governor of the wealth fund, will serve as chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises and how the framework agreement lays the groundwork for expanding investment rights for a Riyadh-based fund. The value has risen in recent years.
A final agreement is not guaranteed. Over the weekend, one member of the tour group, former AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson, resigned. “The construction currently being negotiated by management is not one that I can objectively evaluate or support in good conscience,” Stephenson said in his eviction letter.
If the board ultimately upholds a more binding arrangement, the deal could backfire on judicial antitrust regulators seeking to block the transaction. Price said Tuesday that the department had made clear its intent to review the arrangement.
From the Justice Department to Pennsylvania Avenue, the structure sparked two Senate hearings on the tour’s tax-exempt status and Tuesday’s hearing on a bill to repeal it. However, the hearing was a showcase for how congressional opposition alone can go beyond delivering a bully sermon to grievances, with even senators unable to agree on whether the move is worth it.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, exposed the tour in its face in recent weeks when he adapted it from condemning Saudi Arabia’s money in golf.
“Money is the reason you surrender,” Blumenthal, the subcommittee’s chairman, scolded Price and Dunn. Earlier, the investigation was “about hypocrisy, which can lead individuals and organizations to betray their own values and supporters, or to reveal a lack of values from the start. It’s about other sports and organizations, whether their leaders are about money.
Other lawmakers were more accommodating. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the group’s ranking Republican, said there was “nothing wrong with the PGA Tour negotiating its survival.”
“Negotiations are often delicate, often personal, and I fear that Congress getting involved at this stage could have negative consequences,” Johnson said. Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, asked about the tour’s philanthropic efforts.
It’s unclear whether the unfolding congressional investigation will result in legislation, but Senate investigators have already uncovered internal records that shed light on negotiations conducted in extraordinary secrecy.
For example, two-time British Open champion Greg Norman sought to oust the rebel, Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf League as commissioner as a condition of its alliance.
The tour and Wealth Fund eventually disagreed with the plan, and now Norman is at LIV. But the negotiations reflect lingering tensions if the deal closes, especially a price questioned by Blumenthal on Tuesday, who said Norman’s role is not needed in the future.
Those documents Senate published Describe the discussions about when and how to announce the contract. They also show how Dunn was approached by a British businessman with ties to the wealth fund and its advisers in December, shortly before he joined the tour group. In an email, the businessman, Roger Devlin, suggested there could be a path to a truce between the tour and the wealth fund.
Dunne, at least at first, refused to get involved in a major way.
Devlin reappeared in April, warning Dunn that “there is an opportunity to unify the sport in the next couple of months,” and that he thought, “the Saudis will double their investment and golf will be permanently divided.”
Although committee investigators told senators in a briefing note that they did not know how Devlin’s April message affected Dunn, a member of the tour group contacted Al-Rumaian within days.
Dunne, al-Rumayyan and a handful of others soon met in Britain to begin negotiations that included many ideas not included in the framework agreement’s five-page text. Those ideas, outlined in a presentation titled “The Best of Two Worlds,” saw Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy own LIV teams and a “massive superstar” team golf tournament. Featuring the world’s best male and female players.
With a final deal still pending, there are chances of some abandoned proposals resurfacing.
At least as far back as April, according to documents released by the Senate, there was talk of a deal that would include memberships for al-Rumayan at Augusta National Golf Club and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews — two of the most prestigious. Golf clubs in the world, but not controlled by the PGA Tour.
Neither Norman nor Al-Rumaian appeared for Tuesday’s hearing. Both cited scheduling conflicts.