Members of LIV Golf’s first American host are boycotting the club in response to a plot to smuggle a Saudi teen facing a murder charge out of the country.
LIV Golf will this week make its US debut at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in the tiny Oregon town of North Plains, home to just 3400 people.
The tour is getting a chilly reception in the state, where in 2016 15-year-old Fallon Smart was allegedly killed in a hit-and-run.
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Saudi student Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah was facing a trial on first-degree murder charges when he removed a tracking device and vanished. Authorities believe the Saudi government helped arrange for a fake passport and provided a private jet for travel back to Saudi Arabia.
“It’s wrong to be silent when Saudi Arabia tries to cleanse blood-stained hands, in the fight for Oregonians to get justice — Fallon Smart was killed very close to our house in Southeast Portland, and the person charged with the crime, a hit- and-run death, was, based on all the evidence, whisked out of the country by the Saudis before he stood for trial,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented. We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard,” said a letter signed by North Plains Mayor Teri Lenahan and 10 other mayors from surrounding cities.
Wyden accused the Saudi government of sportswashing.
“It’s just a page out of the autocrats’ playbook covering up injustices by misusing athletics in hopes of normalizing their abuses,” he said.
Public tickets to the event prohibit fans from displaying any political signs.
The event also has put Pumpkin Ridge members in a difficult spot. Some decided to leave the club over the tournament, but it’s unclear how many departed.
New member Kevin Palmer said members like him were “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. Palmer paid $12,000 to join the club last year. He will not get anything back if he too chooses to boycott.
The 48-man field in Portland will compete for $28.9 million in prize money for individual play, and $7.2 million in team play, with 12 teams. Teams will be announced on Wednesday (AEST) after a draft.
Dustin Johnson, who had been No.1 in the world longer than any player since Tiger Woods, and six-time major champion Phil Mickelson were among the first big names to join. The Portland field since has added Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, all major champions, though none among the current top 20 players in the world rankings.
The PGA Tour has suspended every member who competed in the first LIV event because they did not have conflicting event releases. Those in Portland also will be suspended when they step on the first tee.
The tour typically awards three such releases a year, only for tournaments overseas. It does not allow its members to compete in tournaments held in North America.
The Portland event is held the same week as the John Deere Classic in Illinois.
“The PGA Tour, an American institution, can’t compete with a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in attempt to buy the game of golf,” commissioner Jay Monahan said last week.
“We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi golf league is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
The LIV tour consists of eight events this year, including five in the United States. The tour next moves to the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.
Texas-based Escalante Golf, owner of Pumpkin Ridge and another course on the LIV series, did not respond to a request for comment.
“We believe that we have a moral obligation to take a stand and speak out against this event in order to protect the people we serve,” the mayors wrote in a letter to the company. “While our local jurisdictions may not be able to prevent this event, we stand together to voice our concerns about the unwelcomed potential risks, visitors and harm this event could have on our communities.”
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