[WASHINGTON, DC] – Today, U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) Chairman Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) questioned the PGA Tour’s Chief Operation Officer Ron Price and Board Member Jimmy Dunne at a hearing titled “The PGA-LIV Deal: Implications for the Future of Golf and Saudi Arabia’s Influence in the United States.” Blumenthal pressed the Tour’s representatives on the planned agreement with the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and what it means for the future of professional golf in the United States.
Examining Saudi Arabia’s Investments in the PGA Tour
Blumenthal questioned Price on the size of Saudi Arabia’s investment in the Tour. While Price said a final number has not been determined and discussions are ongoing, he told Blumenthal the amount under discussion is, “north of $1 billion.”
“Are there possibilities that additional amounts would be contributed?” Blumenthal asked, to which Price said, “That is in the complete control of the PGA Tour because it is a PGA Tour subsidiary. The board is controlled by the PGA Tour and they have absolute control over how much funding they accept now and in the future.”
When Blumenthal asked if the Tour had explored, “other sources of potential investment,” apart from the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, Price said, “We considered that, Senator. But had we got down that path, we would still be fighting the very expensive and disruptive litigation.”
Addressing the PIF’s Non-Disparagement Clause
Blumenthal asked Price and Dunne about the PIF’s efforts to include a non-disparagement clause, which was added the night before the original framework was signed. Under this clause, players and affiliates of the PGA Tour would potentially be prohibited from criticizing Saudi Arabia or commenting on other human rights issues.
“That’s about as broad a non-disparagement clause as I have ever seen,” said Blumenthal. “Will you commit today, Mr. Price, that the PGA Tour will not punish any members who criticize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or human rights, anywhere regardless of this new relationship with PIF? Can you commit to the final agreement, that the PGA tour will not punish anyone for criticism of anybody in Saudi Arabia?”
“Our position is that the players are free to speak their mind under that agreement and that is the way we’ve interpreted it,” said Price. “We always take our player interests very importantly. And we would try to protect their interests.”
When Blumenthal again pressed if they would commit to protect player expression and go to court if necessary to ensure PIF or others don’t attempt to inhibit speech, Price said, “We would not recommend any definitive agreement to the board for approval that had such a clause in it.”
Standing Up to Saudi Sportswashing
“You still have the choice to stand up against sportswashing, against the Saudi monarchy, against the hundreds of billions of dollars, and maybe a lot more, that the Saudis will throw at you,” said Blumenthal, who added, “there is something that stinks about this path that you are on right now,” about the deal which, “gives them financial dominance.”
Blumenthal warned the PGA Tour about the danger of allowing the PIF to have such a major financial stake, saying, “The simple fact is that the Saudi government is the dominant owner here. It has equity interest. It controls the purse strings. It has the money. And the money is the reason you surrendered in this agreement. And the money will be there going forward. A billion dollars is just the beginning. So, I think the American people can see through some of what you may be stating with the best of intentions.”
Blumenthal thanked Price and Dunne for appearing and discussed the next steps in the Subcommittee’s inquiry.
“We have learned a lot. And we have also learned that we need to learn more. And so we’re going to continue this inquiry, we’re going to ask that the other potential witnesses that we’ve invited actually come and share their perspectives and information,” said Blumenthal.
“I recognize that you cannot say you’re going to walk away from this deal, but I hope you bargained hard. And we will continue this inquiry because I think uncovering more of the facts and shining a spotlight on what is really happening here is in the national interest, and it’s part of our obligation.”