This article originally appeared at Baptist News Global on June 13, 2023.
The PGA Tour shocked the world last week with its announcement of a collaboration with LIV Golf.
As much as this is about the business of golf, it’s also about the complexities of systemic injustice and the need to deconstruct hierarchies in the global clash of Christian and Islamic supremacism.
“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan declared. “We are pleased to move forward, in step with LIV and PIF’s world-class investing experience, and I applaud PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan for his vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach that is not just a solution to the rift in our game, but also a commitment to taking it to new heights. This will engender a new era in global golf, for the better.”
Who is PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan? What does Monahan mean by “PIF’s world-class investing experience”? And why is this story running in a Baptist publication?
At root, this is a story about a battle between the gods of the oil industry, capitalistic greed, religious fundamentalism, Islamic terrorism, Christian supremacy, Islamophobia and a federal investigation into former President Donald Trump all coming together in the carefully manicured and cultivated image of a golf course.
A new golf tour funded by Saudi Arabia
The clash began in October 2021 when Golfweek broke the news that a new golf tour funded by Saudi Arabia-based investors would be led by the former top-ranked golfer in the world in the 1980s and 1990s, Greg Norman.
Two days later, ESPN reported the new league would be called LIV Golf Investments and would be funded by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia. Golf legend Phil Mickelson approved, tweeting, “Awesome day today.”
The vision of the PIF is “to be a global investment powerhouse and the world’s most impactful investor, enabling the creation of new sectors and opportunities that will shape the future global economy, while driving the economic transformation of Saudi Arabia.”
It began in 1971 as part of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Finance. Then it was reborn in 2015 under the Council of Economic and Development Affairs. It claims to be responsible for creating more than 500,000 jobs and to have a value of $700 billion.
The governor of the PIF is Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who also serves as chairman of the Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco. With a current value of $2.09 trillion, the state-owned Saudi Aramco is not only the largest oil producer in the world, but also the most profitable company in the world. Al-Ruymayyan also sits on the board of directors for Uber and has led the PIF to acquire minority stakes in Boeing, Meta, Citigroup, Disney and Bank of America, plus a majority ownership in the Newcastle United F.C. soccer team.
A monarchy of harsh religious fundamentalism
While Saudi Arabia is technically a monarchy, the king is required to submit to Sharia law. Advising the king on these matters is the Council of Senior Scholars, which is the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia made up of 21 members who are chosen by the king and paid by the government.
Many people remember the violent murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, with experts believing the crown prince must have known about it ahead of time. That prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, also is the chairman of the board for the PIF.
But the violence of the Saudi government extends beyond journalists and political operatives who oppose them. It includes its own citizens.
According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia is sentencing its own citizens to prison terms ranging from 10 to 45 years for peaceful dissent on social media.
Human Rights Watch reports Saudi interrogators torture women to the point they lose consciousness.
Saudi Arabia is unapologetic about its mass executions, including one in 2022 where they executed 81 people.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “This execution spree is all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia’s deeply flawed justice system, which metes out death sentences following trials that are grossly and blatantly unfair, including basing verdicts on ‘confessions’ extracted under torture or other ill-treatment.”
Saudi Arabia is known for its strict views of gender distinctions and male-controlled hierarchies that hurt women.
For example, women are allowed to work only in fields the government considers “suited to their nature.” This means just 22% of Saudi women are in the workforce, and their salaries are 44% less than men. Men, on the other hand, make up 98.73% of senior management positions.
When a couple gets married, the husband is considered his wife’s guardian and authority.
More specific laws include prohibitions against alcohol, pornography and bars or nightclubs.
PGA golfers face an offer and a threat
Given the violence of the Saudi government and its control of the PIF, PGA golfers were faced with a difficult decision. With LIV’s massive increase in signing bonuses and prize money, the PGA Tour couldn’t offer financial packages on par with LIV.