PGA deal with Saudi funder lands golf in the rough

There was a time when the PGA Tour and its players claimed to stand for something bigger than golf — and stood tall.

Referencing the families of 9/11 victims who have long objected to the Saudi-backed upstart competitor LIV Golf, and called it what it is — “sportswashing” — PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said last year, “I would ask any player that left [to join LIV] or any player that would ever consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’ “

This week Monahan said, in defending his negotiations to merge the competing organizations, “I think it’s important to reiterate that I feel like the move that we’ve made and how we move forward is in the best interest of our sport.”


What has changed during that year?

The remains of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad in 2018, have still not been returned to his family. The kingdom’s human rights record — its treatment of women and members of the LGBTQ community — are still an affront to civilized people everywhere. Some 26 journalists are at present detained in Saudi prisons. Social media critics remain fair game for the regime for the “crime” of espousing such reforms as an end of the male guardianship system over Saudi women, and at least two Americans remain wrongfully detained in Saudi jails. And the families of the 9/11 victims remain concerned about the possible role of Saudi operatives in the attacks.

This is the regime the PGA Tour has now found common ground with. What financial pressures may have factored on the tour’s change of heart, and what concessions they might have secured from the Saudis in exchange, are unclear.


Under the agreement reached earlier this week — some of its details are still being worked out — the alliance (which also includes the Europe-based DP World Tour) will create a new for-profit entity with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — the funder behind LIV Golf — as a major tour sponsor. The deal gives the governor of that fund, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, an outsized seat at the table, heading its new board of governors.

The Public Investment Fund board in turn is chaired by the kingdom’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the man the CIA believes ordered the killing of Khashoggi.

So, yes, the world of professional golf — love it or hate it — is now pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of a Saudi royal thug.

Or as former president Donald Trump so prophetically put it last October, “You’re not going to beat these people. These people have great spirit, they’re phenomenal people and they have unlimited money — unlimited.”

And Trump, whose family-owned golf courses were already hosting LIV Golf events, is likely to be among the beneficiaries of the new alliance. Gone presumably will be the days when PGA of America pulled the plug on a 2022 tournament scheduled for the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., days after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by a pro-Trump mob.

Surely Al-Rumayyan, whose Public Investment Fund has also made a $2 billion commitment to an investment fund set up by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, would never permit such an indignity.


“Great news from LIV Golf,” Trump touted on Truth Social about the alliance. “A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf.”

Its moral ambiguities aside, the agreement is likely to continue to be scrutinized by the Justice Department which began an antitrust probe of the PGA Tour last summer on whether it was using unfair tactics in its battle with LIV Golf. How could it now ignore this new golfing behemoth, which threatens to wipe out competition almost completely?

That the parties involved have studiously avoided using the word “merger” isn’t likely to fool the DOJ, which has already halted a planned “partnership” between JetBlue and American Airlines and is now attempting to halt a planned JetBlue and Spirit Airlines merger.

Congress may also want to shed some light on this morally bankrupt deal whereby an organization that once professed higher values has sold its soul to the highest bidder.

“Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?” Monahan asked last July.

Today the answer has become a mournful yes.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.