Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf is getting a cold reception in Oregon, its first stop in the United States.
This coming week, the series, which is paying hefty signing fees for players like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, descends on Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in the tiny North Plains, nestled in the rolling hills west of Portland.
But the mayor of Northern Plains, as well as officials in surrounding towns, have written to club owner Escalante Golf with concern. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is speaking out against the tournament, and some members of the expensive club are also uncomfortable with the situation.
Opponents pointed to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, including the murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But there’s also anger over the hit-and-run death of 15-year-old Fallon Smart in 2016 in Oregon.
Saudi student Abdulrahman Samir Noora was facing trial on charges of first-degree murder after he removed a tracking device and disappeared. US officials believe the Saudi government helped arrange fake passports and provided a private jet for travel back to Saudi Arabia. The case was featured on “60 Minutes”.
“While Saudi Arabia tries to clean blood-stained hands in the fight for Oregonian justice, it is wrong to remain silent – Fallon Smart was killed very close to our home in Southeast Portland, and the man charged with the crime, A hit-and-run death, based on all the evidence, was taken out of the country by the Saudis before standing up for trial,” Widen said in an interview with The Associated Press.
There are also concerns that the incident could spark protests in the Northern Plains, a city of just 3,400 people. Tickets to the event bar fans from displaying any political signs.
“We oppose this incident because it is being sponsored by an oppressive government whose human rights abuses have been documented. We refuse to support these abuses by allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyards ,” said a letter signed by North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan and 10 other mayors of surrounding cities.
Whedon accused the Saudi government of sportswashing.
“It’s just one page in the autocrats’ playbook, which covers up injustices in the hopes of normalizing their abuse by abusing athletics,” he said.
The incident has also hit Pumpkin Ridge members in trouble. Some decided to leave the club during the tournament, but it is not clear how many left.
“A lot of members are stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, where they don’t agree politically at all,” said Beaverton member Kevin Palmer. “But I also joined last year and put down like $12,000, and if I leave I won’t get any of that money back.
Greg Norman is the CEO of LIV Golf Investments and the face of a circuit that aims to rival the PGA Tour. The 48-man arena in Portland will compete for $20 million in prize money for individual play and $5 million in team play, consisting of 12 teams. The teams will be announced after the draft on Tuesday.
Johnson, who had been world No. 1 longer than any player since Tiger Woods, and six-time major champion Mickelson were among the first big names to join. The Portland region has since added Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reid, all major champions, although none of the current top 20 players in the world rankings.
The PGA Tour has suspended every member who previously participated in a LIV event because they did not have conflicting event releases. Those living in Portland will also be suspended when they tease it.
The tour typically awards three such releases a year, only for tournaments overseas. It does not allow its members to compete in tournaments held in North America.
The Portland event is held the same week as the John Deere Classic in Illinois.
“An American institution cannot compete with the PGA Tour, a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars trying to buy the game of golf,” Commissioner Jay Monahan said last week. “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It is an irrational threat that has nothing to do with the return on investment or the actual development of the sport.”
The LIV tour includes eight shows this year, five of which are in the United States. After a stop in Portland, the tour heads to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.
Texas-based Escalante Golf, owner of Pumpkin Ridge and another course on the LIV chain, did not respond to a request for comment.
“We believe we have a moral obligation to stand up and speak out against this incident in order to serve the people,” the mayors wrote in their letter to the company. “While our local jurisdictions may not be able to prevent this incident, we stand together to voice our concerns about the potential risks to unwanted visitors, visitors and the harm this incident may cause to our communities.
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