1 of 6 | PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations hearing Tuesday in Washington into the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf alliance. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
July 11 (UPI) -- Representatives from the PGA Tour defended the controversial, proposed alliance with Saudi-financed LIV Golf in testimony before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday,
PGA Tour Chief Operating officer Ron Price and board member Jimmy Dunne offered the sworn testimony, answering questions from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the subcommittee, as well as other senators.
"Today's hearing is about much more than the game of golf," Blumenthal said in opening remarks. "It's about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence, indeed even take over a cherished American institution to cleanse its public image.
"It's a regime that has reportedly killed journalist, jailed and tortured dissidents, fostered the war in Yemen, and supported other terrorist activities including the 9/11 attack on our nation."
The hearing, titled, The PGA-LIV Deal: Implications for the Future of Golf and Saudi Arabia's influence in the United States, lasted about 3 hours and can be viewed online.
Senators questioned the PGA Tour officials for the decision to align with LIV Golf, citing accusations of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses. They also questioned the new entity's tax compliance and received more information about active negotiations between the parties.
More than 100 people, including families of 9/11 victims, filled the Hart Senate Office Building hearing room for the morning session.
The PGA Tour reached a framework agreement with LIV Golf on May 30 and sent that document to the subcommittee. Dunne said the framework agreement ended legal battles between the golf parties, but insisted Tuesday that their is not yet a "definitive" pact as negotiations continue.
"We have no agreement," Dunne said Tuesday. "We have an agreement to possibly get to an agreement."
Dunne called a potential agreement a "win-win" situation and said he is "deeply concerned" that the lack of pact could lead to more players defecting to LIV Golf and "destroying" the PGA Tour.
"They've got a management team that wants to destroy the Tour," Dunne said of LIV Golf. "And even though [LIV] could take five or six players a year, they have an unlimited horizon and an unlimited amount of money.
"So it isn't like the product is better. It's just that there's a lot more money that will make people move."
He added: "I'm concerned with exactly what the senators are worried about, [but] I'm more concerned, though. If we do nothing ... they're going to end up owning golf if we don't. They can. They can do it. Because it isn't that big. It's only a couple of hundred players [on the PGA Tour]."
As part of Tuesday's hearing, the subcommittee released a 276-page memo, including documents and correspondence between PGA Tour and LIV Golf officials.
That memo included a "requested side agreement," specifying that LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman would not be retained by LIV Golf after competition of the proposed golf alliance.
Another proposal included allowing PGA Tour stars Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods the opportunities to own LIV Golf teams and participate in at least 10 LIV Golf events.
Additional proposals for the new venture included a LIV Golf-style team global event with matches in Saudi Arabia and a minimum of two PGA Tour high-profile events to be sponsored by Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco or the Public Investment Fund.
The latter proposal also called for one of those events to be held in Saudi Arabia.
LIV Golf and the PGA Tour announced their decision to unite June 6, potentially ending two years of legal battles, player feuds, suspensions and defections from the longtime U.S.-based golf league to the upstart, Saudi-backed venture.
"It was very clear to us and to all who loved the PGA Tour and the game of golf as a whole, that the dispute was undermining growth of our sport and was threatening the very survival of the PGA Tour," Price said. "It was unsustainable."
The Saudis' Public Investment Fund, which finances LIV Golf and is valued at more than $600 billion, plans to combine its golf-related commercial businesses and rights with those of the other tours into a "collectively owned, for-profit entity."
On June 21, Blumenthal and Johnson requested that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, Norman and Saudi Public Investment Fund governor Yasir al-Rumayyan testify at the hearing.
Last week, Blumenthal and Johnson said Norman and al-Rumayyan have "scheduling conflicts," making them unavailable for the hearing. Blumenthal said Tuesday that the subcommittee is working to resolve those scheduling issues to achieve cooperation by LIV Golf executives.
Blumenthal said Monahan, who remains on medical leave, is expected to return to his role later this month.
The PGA Tour confirmed last July that the Department of Justice also was investigating the PGA Tour for anti-competitive behavior in connection to LIV Golf.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, also announced another investigation into the PGA Tour-LIV Golf agreement last month.
Johnson said Monday that the LIV Golf-PGA Tour parties should be given additional "space" to negotiate amid the probes into their proposed alliances.
"I don't say that Congress doesn't have a role to play," Johnson said Monday. "We talked about that in terms of antitrust and maybe once there's a deal, to come back and take a look at this.
"For the time being, I would recommend we give these guys the space to negotiate something. I think their their motivations are pure. They're trying to preserve this game.
"They're trying to do right by their players. They're trying to do right by this country. Give them give them the space to negotiate a deal. And then if we have a problem with it, we can come back and look at it later."
The subcommittee plans to continue its inquiry into the proposed alliance, including asking additional witnesses to participate.
"The more we know, the more we can support the values and freedoms that we have espoused here today," Blumenthal said.