PGA Tour-Saudi PIF merger draws the attention of Congress

Congress is taking a close look at the PGA Tour's deal with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

The PGA Tour-Saudi Public Investment Fund merger is far more than a sports story. It's a blending of cultures, a strategic alignment that combines an American-developed sports property with the vast financial resources of Saudi Arabia. The story has captured the interest of sports fans for months, and now, it's caught the eye of Congress, too.

In the wake of Tuesday's shocking announcement of a merger between the PGA Tour and the PIF, the financial backer of the breakaway tour LIV Golf, several figures in Congress have stepped into the fray. Most notably, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi of California, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the "No Corporate Tax Exemption for Professional Sports Act," which takes direct aim at the merger.

"Saudi Arabia cannot be allowed to 'sportswash' its government’s horrific human rights abuses and the 2018 murder of American-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi by taking over the PGA [Tour]," Garamendi said in a statement. “PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan should be ashamed of the blatant hypocrisy and about-face he and the rest of PGA’s leadership demonstrated by allowing the sovereign wealth fund of a foreign government with an unconscionable human rights record to take over an iconic American sports league and avoid paying a penny in federal corporate income tax. This merger flies in the face of the PGA players who turned down hundred-million-dollar paydays from the Saudi-backed LIV to align themselves with the right side of history and human decency."

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will face severe scrutiny of the PGA Tour-PIF merger he brokered. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan will face severe scrutiny of the PGA Tour-PIF merger he brokered. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images) (Ben Jared via Getty Images)

Elsewhere in the halls of Congress, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut called out the Tour for its apparent bald-faced hypocrisy:

"So weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis' human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport," Murphy tweeted. "I guess maybe their concerns weren't really about human rights?"

"I was really sickened by [the news of the merger]. I thought the PGA was taking a principled stand," Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia told Fox News. "When I saw the news [Tuesday], I was really disappointed because it seems they set aside all the human rights objections that they had and just decided ‘OK, well, we can make more money if we go a different direction.'"

“The PGA Tour has spent two years lambasting Saudi sports-washing and paying lip service to the integrity of the sport of golf, which will now be used unabashedly by the Kingdom to distract from its many crimes," Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said in a statement. "The PGA Tour has placed a price on human rights and betrayed the long history of sports and athletes that advocate for social change and progress. I will keep a close eye on the structure of this deal and its implications."

LIV CEO Greg Norman received a rough reception when he visited Congress in September, with several elected officials pressing him on the Saudis' human rights record and connection to 9/11. It's unlikely time has healed any of those rifts. Given that the PGA Tour-PIF merger is likely to undergo substantial antitrust scrutiny, the antipathy shown by members of Congress to both the PGA Tour and LIV is an ominous sign for the venture's future prospects.