Out of Bounds: Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Shakes Up Professional Golf

By Nick Hedley

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which holds about $610 billion in assets, is upending the world of professional golf as it lures many of the sport’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour with promises of huge prize money and new formats.

The LIV Golf Invitational series, which got underway on June 9, is majority owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) – the Saudi Arabian investment firm that is quickly growing its portfolio of sports investments. The fund owns the Newcastle United soccer team and is co-creating the world’s first electric powerboat racing competition.

LIV Golf secured many top-ranked players ahead of its inaugural tournament in London.

Dustin Johnson, the former world No. 1, and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen are among those who have quit the PGA tour in favor of the breakaway series – despite the PGA’s threat of bans if they did so.

Six-time major champion Phil Mickelson has also joined the rival tour, while another former world No. 1, Greg Norman, has taken on the role of CEO of LIV Golf.

The Wall Street Journal reported on 9 June that the PGA Tour had followed through with its threat of suspensions and bans. It suspended 17 players, including Mickelson and Johnson.

With the first seven LIV Golf tournaments all having a prize pool of $25 million, players loyal to the PGA and other established tours have accused their defecting peers of greed, and of supporting a regime that is seen to have a poor human rights track record.

Yet the new series continues to win over high-profile players.

In a statement published in May, LIV Golf said it would invest $2 billion to fund the series’ ongoing expansion and for prize purses.

Tournaments will be held across the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Europe and North America.

“We have a long-term vision and we’re here to stay,” Norman said. “We’re going to grow the game, give more opportunities to players, and create a more entertaining product for fans.”