Golfers eager to play at Saudi-funded Leaf Golf Club despite human rights concerns

A new Saudi-funded men’s golf league has attracted top golfers, despite criticism over human rights issues in Saudi Arabia.

LIV Golf is coming to Portland this weekend and has just beaten another great golfer – Brooks Koepka. Playing on the new course, which is funded by the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund, is particularly appealing to lesser-known golfers struggling to make a living from the sport.

“People may not realize how expensive it is to be an aspiring golfer,” Brandon Cobbett told New Golf to Al-Monitor. “LIV is attractive because it’s so much more money.”

LIV Golf was founded last year and held its first tournament outside London earlier this month. It is funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which invests in a range of sectors to help diversify the kingdom and reduce its dependence on oil. LIV Golf is run by Australian golf legend Greg Norman. The retired golfer has long criticized the PGA Tour, the dominant men’s golf competition in North America. LIV Golf currently only has male players, although Norman has expressed interest in adding female golfers.

LIV Golf has been controversial from the start due to its Saudi funding source. The Gulf state has a myriad of human rights issues, including a high execution rate, legal discrimination against women and the outrageous assassination of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Saudi Arabia has made limited progress in recent years on some of these issues, giving women the right to to manage in 2018 and the relaxation of male guardianship laws last year, for example.

Many top PGA golfers have left for LIV because of the potential to win millions. Americans Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau have been proposed to join more than $ 100 million.

But LIV Golf may be more attractive to lesser-known, lower-paid golfers. Many LIV golfers are not household names, such as Spain’s David Puig, who recently played golf at Arizona State University.

Cubitt is a junior golfer in Alberta, Canada, who creates golf content for YouTube, Instagram and other channels. He noted that aspiring professional golfers who want to play on the PGA Tour must first enter ‘School Q’ competitions that cost thousands of dollars just to participate.

“If men don’t make money, they have no way of paying those fees,” Cubitt said. “Some of these guys do not necessarily come from money. They eat fast food five times a week.

The first event minimum for LIV Golf was $ 120,000, more than five times higher than that of some PGA events.

Golfers who want to play LIV face a lot of criticism. Earlier this month, a group of 9/11 victims criticized Mickelson for working with Saudi Arabia over the Saudi government’s role in the attacks. Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy called a recent LIV golf contestant “dishonest”. The American golf media was particularly critical of the league. golf channel analyst Accused Participants in LIV Golf “exchange a little of their soul for money”.

There is a disconnect between criticism of LIV Golf in the American media and some players, according to a sports journalist.

“It’s easy for people who have not been offered that money to say they will not take that money,” Chase Howell, who writes for Action Network, told Al-Monitor.

Howell is also caddies on the Korn Ferry Tour, a development golf tour whose players are striving to make the PGA Tour. He called the LIV minimum payment “life-changing money” for these golfers and said that many golfers on his tour would seriously consider playing for the LIV team.

“Talk to the tour players and people who play golf – they’re more supportive,” Howell said. “The golf media was very hostile to this league. I do not think that is what the majority of the public thinks.

At least one of the veterans of the Korn ferry tour, Little Turk, is now playing for LIV Golf, and others may join soon. Howell also cited the case of English golfer Sam Horsfield, who according to the Golf Channel made $ 397,157 in career earnings, including international PGA events. The minimum payout for the first LIV Golf event, in which Horsfield participated, was more than 25% of it.

LIV also performs better than the PGA in terms of compensation for shopping trolleys.

“The cans are handled very well at LIV. All flights and hotels are paid for. “They go above and beyond for every can,” Howell said. “The PGA has never paid for flights.”

Some LIV cars have expressed similar views at Golf Digest this month.

LIV Golf has several other events on the program this year, including two at Trump golf courses and one in Saudi Arabia even in October. The PGA has already responded to the inception of LIV Golf, refusing to allow its players to compete in the competitive league and promising more as well as guaranteed money for those who remain.

Some observers believe the anger over the LIV Gulf could disappear. David Samson hosts the Nothing Personal podcast on CBS Sports and previously served as the head of the professional baseball teams for the Miami Marlins and Montreal Expos. He said LIV golfers could escape anger over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

“Golfers have benefited from the fact that the audience usually has an initial anger and then calms down,” Samson told Al-Monitor. “There is a large amount of safe money waiting on the other side.”

Samson added that LIV had improved its public relations, which he initially described as “horrific”.

Earlier this year, Mickelson described the Saudis as “scary” when asked about his relationship with LIV Golf. The remarks sparked a massive setback.

Now Norman is going on the offensive. Last month, he acknowledged Saudi Arabia’s human rights problems and praised the “cultural change” in the country. He noted this month that PGA Tour sponsors are making tens of billions of dollars in revenue from Saudi Arabia, which the golfer called “hypocrisy”. “

“LIV has done a great job with PR and says ‘we all have hypocrisy,'” Samson said.

It remains to be seen whether the LIV Golf will be able to compete with the PGA in the coming years. Many other competing sports leagues in North America, such as the XFL, have failed. Samson said Leif’s success “depends on the level of investment” of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Some in the golf world also think that LIV may not be exciting to watch for “big” golf tournaments, such as the US Open and the PGA Championship. For example, winning a LIV golf tour does not count towards the golf world rankings. Howell described LIV as more than a “gallery”.

“They do not play as much to win. There is no downside to losing. “Part of the reason we love golf is the stress we feel,” he said. People like to bang to see if people make mistakes. This is why majors are attractive.

Many of the biggest names in golf are still loyal to the PGA Tour. American Tiger Woods, who is chasing the record for most major titles of all time, turned down nearly $ 1 billion to join LIV Golf, Norman told the Washington Post in May.

Cubet said golfers will have to choose between career achievements and PIF fortunes when deciding to join LIV Golf.

“Men really need to weigh what it means to win outstanding trophies,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle and money is guaranteed in exchange for an inheritance.”

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