Tuesday’s surprising deal that ends a civil war in the professional golf world will pay off for former President Donald J. Trump’s family business, raising the prospect that major tournaments will continue to be played on courses owned by Trump in the US and possibly abroad.
The result is the latest example of how the close relationship between Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign wealth fund is the force behind the golf upheaval, has turned out to be beneficial. for both sides even as it has attracted intense ethical scrutiny and political criticism.
While it has injected new money and competition into professional golf, Saudi Arabia has been accused of using its wealth to boost its global reputation and overshadow its human rights record through sport. That campaign now appears to have offered business opportunities and a higher profile in the golfing world for Mr. Trump as he seeks another term in the White House.
Since the establishment of LIV Golf, the Saudi Arabian-funded breakaway professional golf circuit, Mr. Trump and his family have sided with LIV against the PGA Tour at a time when the golf establishment in the U.S. and Great Britain I had moved to shut down Trump’s courses of major professional competitions, a trophy the Trump family had long sought.
The estrangement from Trump and his courses has only accelerated after the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. Just days after the assault, PGA of America announced it was canceling a scheduled 2022 tournament at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ that had been planned for years.
LIV has quickly become the Trump family’s ticket back to the rarefied world of global tournament play, with events last year at Bedminster and Trump National Doral, the family’s golf resort near Miami. This year LIV brought tournament play to three Trump courses, adding Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia to the schedule.
The decision by professional golfers in the United States to avoid Mr. Trump had infuriated his family members. Mr. Trump’s business has spent more than a decade buying or developing golf courses around the world with the goal of hosting major tournaments, which helps drive membership by putting courses in the spotlight and could confer a certain degree of legitimacy in the sports world to Mr. Trump, an avid golfer.
Dating back to when Trump was in the White House, he and his family have had unusually close ties to Saudi Arabia and the royal family. His first trip abroad as president was to Riyadh, where he received a lavish welcome.
Trump later downplayed the Saudi government’s role in the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist, and defended Saudi Arabia’s long-running military campaign in neighboring Yemen while in office.
After Trump left office, that relationship continued in the form of a $2 billion pledge by the Public Investment Facility — led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler — to a investment fund set up by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law. The Saudi fund also invested $1 billion in a company run by Steven Mnuchin, who had been Trump’s Treasury secretary.
LIV Golf is backed by the same Saudi fund. The head of the fund, Yasir al-Rumayyan, an avid golfer who has also taken on the role of supervisor of LIV Golf, has spent lavishly to recruit top pro players like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and big names like Phil Mickelson with purses from $25 million and guaranteed contracts sometimes amounting to $100 million or more.
But the new alliance between the PGA Tour and LIV will only intensify questions about Trump and potential conflicts of interest as he does business with foreign government entities as he runs for the White House again.
Already, the Justice Department, as part of its investigation into Trump’s handling of confidential documents, is suing the Trump Organization, asking for documents related to Trump’s dealings with a Golf LIV.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the board of the PGA Tour. Mr. al-Rumayyan also said on Tuesday that the Saudi investment fund is ready to invest billions of dollars in the united golf tournament effort.
On Truth Social, Trump’s social media platform and personal megaphone, he wrote: “Great news from LIV Golf. A big, beautiful and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf”.
Trump’s son Eric Trump also welcomed the deal in an interview on Tuesday, calling it « a wonderful thing for the game of golf, » adding that he expects tournaments to continue on Trump-owned courses. once the merger is complete.
Asked if the Trump family had any role in urging the PGA Tour and the estate fund to join forces, Eric Trump declined to comment. But he said the family has developed close friends over many years in the golf world, including those associated with the PGA Tour and the LIV.
The Trump family has been trying to get more golf courses to host LIV tournaments, including a club in Dubai and the Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, venues it now hopes to see added in future years to a reunified golf industry .
This reflects the Trump family’s intense commitment to bringing events to its courses, including in Scotland, which the British Open, a major professional golf tournament, has repeatedly refused to do. While president, Mr. Trump enlisted the American ambassador to Britain to lobby the British government, unsuccessfully, to hold a tournament in Turnberry.
Payouts from the LIV tournaments don’t appear in Trump’s financial disclosure report, which he filed in May, suggesting the fees will go directly to individual golf clubs and are counted as part of their overall revenue. The Trump family has not said how much they are making from LIV.
“Look, to me they are peanuts. These are peanuts,” Trump said in an interview with reporters last month at his golf club in Virginia during a LIV event, adding that “they pay a rental fee. They want to use my properties because they are the best properties. »
In July, just before the first LIV tournament was to be played at Trump National Bedminster, Mr. Trump predicted rival golf tours would eventually merge and suggested players who remained loyal to the PGA Tour were making a financial mistake.
“All those golfers who remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA, in all its various guises, will pay a heavy price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you will receive nothing but a big ‘thank you’ from PGA officials who earn million dollars a year » Mr. Trump wrote in Truth Social in July 2022. « If you don’t take the money now, you’ll get nothing after the merger takes place, and you’ll only say how smart the original signatories were. »
In an interview last year at Trump National Doral when the LIV tournament was taking place, Trump added that he was confident the Saudis would win the dispute.
« You are not going to beat these people, » Trump said in October. « These people have great spirit, they’re phenomenal people, and they have unlimited, unlimited money. »
There will be no immediate effect for Mr. Trump, as at least for now the PGA and LIV tours will each continue independently, with the LIV season going ahead as planned this year and the PGA sticking to the competition sites it already had. identified, a PGA Tour spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
But his alliance with the Saudis carries some political risks for Trump as he campaigns to return to the White House.
The announcement of the LIV-PGA deal immediately sparked protests from a group called 9/11 Families United, prompting continued investigations into the origins of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The group called Saudi Arabia’s efforts to entering professional golf « sportwash » as part of a plan to improve the country’s reputation on human rights and accused the existence of links between the hijackers and the Saudi government.
The leaders of the PGA Tour, said a spokesperson for 9/11 Families United in a statement« They appear to have just become higher-paid Saudi shillings, taking billions of dollars to clean up Saudi reputation, » a claim that also led protesters to Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster last year when the LIV tournament was being played.
Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democrat of Connecticut, noted Tuesday that the PGA had long rejected any talk of a merger with LIV.
« PGA officials were in my office just a few months ago talking about how the Saudis’ human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport, » he wrote on Twitter. « I guess maybe their concerns weren’t really about human rights? »
Alan Blinder contributed report.