OLIVER HOLT: Golf latest domino to fall as Saudi Arabia sluices abuses

OLIVER HOLT: Everything we were told we should hate about LIV, we will now be told is wonderful. Golf is just the latest domino to fall in Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sport to sluice away its abuses

  • LIV Golf will merge with the PGA Tour and create a new company with its rival 
  • Jay Monahan spoke empty words and yet again, it’s always about the money
  • All responsibility for anything apart from raking in cash has been abrogated

Any fragile hope that dumb idealists might have harboured that the stand taken by the PGA Tour against Saudi-owned LIV Golf had anything to do with some last vestige of principle in sport was exploded into a few billion pieces of silver.

It’s about the money, stupid. It’s always about the money.

It’s about empty words, too. The empty words spoken by hollow men like Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, who once poured scorn on those who would take blood money from a regime up to its neck in human rights abuses. And who has now jumped into bed with it.

Monahan deserves some credit for his front, I suppose. The same applies to Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the DP World Tour.

If they can look their members in the eye after this astonishing volte-face, then they have a stern constitution indeed. Monahan’s u-turn is particularly spectacular. It was not long ago that he was damning the defectors to LIV Golf in emotive terms, invoking Saudi involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and saying that ‘as it relates to the families of 9/11, I have two families that are close to me that lost loved ones, so my heart goes out to them’.

Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, spoke hollow words on the Saudi Arabian regime

Rory McIlroy gained admiration for his anti-LIV stance and went out on a limb in his opposition

Newcastle United has been turned into a fawning vassal state (above: Yasir Al-Rumayyan, left)

I wonder how those families feel about Monahan now?

Everything we were told we should hate about LIV, we will now be told is wonderful. Everything we were told was grubby, sordid, tawdry, mercenary and shameful about LIV, we will now be told is the way to grow to the game.

The R&A released a statement saying it was looking forward to working with the ‘new entity’, which made the merged PGA and LIV tours sound like something out of Revenge of the Sith. Which was appropriate.

The rest of us will just have to put up with that queasy feeling in our stomachs about a sport whose leadership has abrogated all responsibility for anything apart from raking in cash. No point in hand-wringing, though. It was ever thus.

A penny for the thoughts of some of the high-profile golfers who resisted the riches on offer from LIV because Monahan told them they owed it to the game not to defect.

A penny for the thoughts of Rory McIlroy, too, who gained so much admiration for his voluble stance against LIV and who went out on a limb in his opposition. Where does he stand on this?

The reality is that golf is just the latest domino to fall in Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning attempt to use sport to sluice away its abuses, its mass executions, its treatment of women and its crushing of free speech.

Newcastle United has already been turned into an obedient, fawning vassal state, but even the portion of the fanbase that revels in calling itself the Saudi Mags may now be beginning to realise that it is a plaything, a pawn in a much, much bigger game. 

The merger shows it has always been about money (above: LIV CEO Greg Norman, right)

LIV Golf players pictured ahead of their second season start in Mayakoba, Mexico in February

Golf is the latest domino to fall in Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sport to sluice away its abuses

Sportswashing is in vogue. Bloody regimes are being associated with beautiful football and beautiful footballers. Now, it will be inextricably linked with all of golf’s wonderful showpieces and all its best players.

The Saudis’ blood money is buying up sport and the pace of its acquisitions is quickening. Cristiano Ronaldo has been bought to play in the Saudi league and so, too, has Karim Benzema, the reigning Ballon d’Or holder. Perhaps Lionel Messi will be next now he has left Paris Saint-Germain.

The answer to the question of where sport goes from here appears to be – wherever Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants it to go.

Sport is open to the highest bidder and that usually means a repressive Gulf state.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which owns Newcastle, announced earlier this week it was taking control of four of the kingdom’s top football clubs including Al Nassr, Ronaldo’s side. It will now own 75 per cent of Al Ittihad, Al Ahli, Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

More and more stars, lured by extravagant salaries like the ones paid to Ronaldo and Benzema, are likely to move to the Saudi Professional League and more and more clubs are likely to come under the influence of the Saudis.

As for the Premier League, two of the top four – Manchester City and Newcastle – are already owned by repressive petro-states. Manchester United’s fate is unknown.

The direction of travel is obvious, though. Just follow the money.


  • June 9, 2022: LIV Golf held its inaugural event in England, prompting the PGA Tour to suspend all members who competed in the rival event.
  • August of 2022: Phil Mickelson and 10 other LIV Golfers filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in response to their suspensions. The plaintiffs accused the PGA of using an unlawful monopoly to stifle trade.
  • October of 2022: The PGA files its countersuit against the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which funds LIV Golf. PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan is named in the lawsuit.
  • January of 2023: The PGA files a motion, claiming the PIF interfered with its contracts by luring players to join the upstart league.
  • June of 2023: LIV Golf and the PGA Tour decide to merge, bringing an end to their competing lawsuits.


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