Canzano: Saudi-backed golf tour is a money grab by Pumpkin Ridge
Members say they are embarrassed.
NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Escalante Golf, Inc. owns and operates the suburban treasure that is Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. If the Texas-based corporation hadn’t cut a lucrative back-room deal with a controversial Saudi-funded golf tour I wouldn’t be writing about it today.
But it did exactly that.
Escalante Golf sold out. It did so without consulting club members or its advisory board, a course management source confirmed. The parent corporation took the money and signed on to host an LIV Golf Invitational Series event on July 1-3 at Pumpkin Ridge. We may soon learn if 48 professional golfers can hit balls through the jeers of protesters.
There are a number of issues:
The LIV golf league is funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The Public Investment Fund invests heavily in sports and has been scrutinized for a lack of transparency.
The Saudi Arabian government has an atrocious record when it comes to human rights.
Greg Norman is the face of the LIV Golf Investments and has a reputation of being a bit of an industry huckster.
Escalante Golf did not return a message seeking comment. However, a long line of members at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club aren’t happy. I’ve heard from them in the last week. Said one: “I don’t know any member who thinks this is good for the club.”
The course informed members about LIV event on March 16 via email. The ham-handed announcement described the golf event as “unique and unprecedented.” It also informed members that the course would be shutting down for eight days in the heart of prime golf season in order to make course improvements.
Said a second Pumpkin Ridge member: “Maybe people in Texas don’t care or don’t give an (expletive) about human rights but the majority of the members are embarrassed.”
Pumpkin Ridge isn’t the only course owned by Escalante Golf that committed to the LIV Golf Invitational Series. The International, located in Boston, will host the same series Sept. 2-4.
Who will show up to watch either of these events?
Who will play in them?
Nobody is quite sure. The PGA Tour wants nothing to do with the Saudi-backed golf league. Established tour golfers aren’t eager to line up to play as a result but $255 million in guaranteed prize money for the eight worldwide events will help fill the field. The prevailing theory is that the LIV participants will largely be journeyman European players.
There are growing concerns about course security and potential protesting. Also, community leaders have discussed how to deal with what will certainly be a tumultuous and emotional weekend at Pumpkin Ridge.
The event feels icky, doesn’t it?
It’s a bad look for Pumpkin Ridge. I feel for the long-time members who pay their dues and now feel helpless. I even feel for local course management, who will have to publicly justify it while gritting their teeth.
Pumpkin Ridge was where Tiger Woods won his third USGA amateur and introduced himself to the world as a professional the following day with that “Hello World” campaign. The course has hosted the US Women’s Open, the USGA Girls Junior, tour qualifying tournaments and LPGA events.
Over the years the club members at Pumpkin Ridge viewed hosting large-scale golf events as an acceptable trade off. The course shut down for a week, but members could come out and watch some of the best young players in the sport play for a tour card. But this LIV event is just a money grab, plain and simple.
Maybe Escalante Golf will come to its senses and tear up the agreement. Or maybe it just doesn’t care. But what may have sounded like a good idea in Texas now looks like a raving mess in Oregon.
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