Evanson: LIV Golf or human lives? That's the moral question facing tournament at Pumpkin Ridge
LIV Golf is coming to Portland — allegedly.
The new Saudi-backed golf circus, with its ringleader Greg Norman, is scheduled to tee it up for the first time June 9-11 in London and set to make its U.S. debut July 1-3 at Pumpkin Ridge in North Plains.
It's offering astronomical prize money, purported fields that will include many of the world's top-ranked players, and an innovative format — all said to be designed with the intent of "growing the game."
But while the tour, event and its CEO claim to be above board, it's what's bubbling beneath it all that has many questioning just how London, the Portland area and the rest of the world should feel about golf's new big-top entertainment.
While Norman says it's about making golf "better," others suggest it's more about fattening the former golf great's wallet, along with reigniting his 30-year war he started with the PGA Tour over his proposed World Tour in the early 1990s.
It's not a stretch. After all, Norman's off-the-course business endeavors and his accumulated wealth are well-documented, and he's made it perfectly clear on more than one occasion that he's not a fan of the PGA Tour and how they do their business.
But at what expense is he willing to pursue both? And just how much did he compromise in his deal with the proverbial devil that's funding his pursuit?
You see, golf is not the problem with LIV Golf. The game is the game and the people playing it remain the world's best. But the money behind it is not a pot of corporate sponsored gold that typically funds the world's primary tours, but rather the tender of a Saudi Arabian regime infamously known for medieval atrocities despite modern times.
Women are second-rate to the Saudis. Homosexuality can lead to death. Torture is a form of punishment. And free speech? Forget it.
In fact, protesting is a criminal act in the country and those speaking out against the regime and any of their human rights practices have been and continue to be imprisoned for voicing their concerns.
The Saudis executed 81 people in one day this past March 12, and in 2018, former Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated by agents of the Saudi government for his repeated criticisms of the country's policies and their crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.
To make things worse, Norman recently trivialized Khashoggi's death by saying, "Look, we've all made mistakes." Lest you take that quote as an example of Norman's maxim, it wasn't the first flippant comment he's made regarding the controversial practices of the financial backers behind the LIV curtain.
Less than ideal.
Outsiders willing to examine multiple sides of the ethical dilemma point to sports relationships with China — another country with a history of subpar human rights policies — as a similar but "accepted" practice in defense of LIV Golf, and they're not wrong to point out the apparent hypocrisy. But sports events or organizations with relationships with Chinese entities or hosting events in the country are not working directly with the government, nor are they funded by such — like LIV.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has already chimed in with his opinion regarding the event at Pumpkin Ridge, citing not the Saudi government's record on human rights as his primary issue, but rather their track record of allegedly aiding and abetting Saudi Arabian citizens fleeing American justice, citing seven such cases here in Oregon.
"Whoever is calling the shots for this Saudi-affiliated tournament on U.S. soil needs to step up and take responsibility for how they are effectively trying to cleanse the stains of the Saudi regime," the senator said.
Additionally, Pumpkin Ridge members have publicly cited concerns over the club's connection to the event, including fears of damage resulting from potential protests prior to or during the tournament.
Making things worse, the players themselves are in the crosshairs and are being forced to choose between the tour's riches and their PGA and European Tour careers they've — in many cases — spent their entire professional lives creating.
Sure, the purses are bigger, and there's guaranteed money rumored to be as high as $120,000 for all participants. But the blowback from participating could span far beyond the dollar.
Both the American and European PGA Tours have made it clear to members that they will face suspension or banishment for participating in LIV Golf events, and player sponsors are starting to end relationships with players rumored to be considering the move.
That's not only a problem for the players themselves, but also for the tour trying to put together fields worthy of potential spectators' money.
I'm still not convinced the tour is going to happen at all. Nor is Peter Jacobsen, who said as much to John Canzano of the "Bald Faced Truth" radio program before also referencing the closely knit golf business community as another hurdle facing the fledgling tour.
Sure, there's a lot of money and that might be enough for a fading star of the game who's pitting those potential riches against that of their dwindling earning potential. But for the game's stars in their prime or budding superstars trying to create a legacy as one of the game's greats, there's far too much to lose by putting more money ahead of the astronomical dollars already on their plates.
So, let's see what happens over the next two weeks, what could happen in London, and in the weeks between then and the event at Pumpkin Ridge.
Money talks, but there's more to life than money.
Or is there? I guess we're going to find out.
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