The messy geopolitics of … golf
After years of legal wrangling in the golfing world, the decades-old PGA Tour is merging with LIV Golf, a breakaway league backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that’s overseen by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Under the deal, which also involves PGA’s European branch DP World Tours, the two operations will combine under one company (though officials said in a statement that this is not a merger, likely to create the impression that this is a deal between equals).
What is LIV? In recent years, the Saudis lured golf players with shorter tournaments and lucrative contracts that guaranteed their salaries regardless of performance, creating a large schism in the golfing world. The deal comes after a year of lawsuits over LIV continuing to poach PGA’s golfers, including its star player Phil Mickelson, which the PGA responded to by banning its players from participating in its competitor’s events.
Critics of LIV – and there are many – see the competition as a vehicle for Saudi “sportwashing” by allowing MBS to launder his reputation as a human rights abuser. But MBS claims that LIV is yet another cultural program – along with courting music festivals, lifting bans on cinemas, and even constructing a ski resort – aimed at drawing wealthy westerners and diversifying the Saudi economy away from fossil fuels.
Many see this as an attempt by the Saudis to seize control of a nostalgic American sport. But one person who likes it a lot is former President Donald Trump, who has hosted LIV events at his private estates. On Tuesday, Trump called it a “big, beautiful, and glamorous deal.”