Tag: liv golf
Sand Trap: Saudi Golf Coup Spotlights Our Servility To 'Sovereign' Wealth

Sand Trap: Saudi Golf Coup Spotlights Our Servility To 'Sovereign' Wealth

This week's spectacle is an easy outing. You don't even need to walk behind the greasy tent to see this Freakshow. Just plop down on a golf cart. Enjoy the manicured grassy knolls. Inhale the green smell of money.

Now, get out your binoculars. Observe sunscreen-slathered, perspiring American men dancing with swords over by the sand trap.

The news that the red, white, and blue PGA is joining Saudi Arabia's LIV golf league was reported with the same awe that one might expect of a cratering asteroid hit. The merger "shocked" the sports world. It got more attention than the blown Ukrainian dam that now threatens Europe's largest nuclear power plant. As a headline, it was barely supplanted by the East Coast smoke-ocalypse.

But should we be shocked?

Golf courses are little freak shows of networked white guys who build shopping malls and don't read many books. The Former Guy, paunchy, rich, entitled, is the avatar of the sport. To afford the toys and the greens, most must rank in the above $75,000 annual income range, usually much, much higher. They're the MAGA donor/voter sweet spot.

The PGA-LIV merger is about something bigger than the hypocrisy of the golf pros, bigger than whatever politics and deals lesser men discuss between holes.

The capitulation of this American pro sport is just another example of our culture's total abjection to concentrated wealth. The Saudi royals control a $700 million sovereign wealth fund called the Public Investment Fund, or PIF. At least a trillion dollars, is parked in an Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund under the control of a few descendants of desert tribal leaders whose forebears couldn't read just a generation ago.

For comparison, Apple is valued at a trillion dollars.

The Gulf fortunes are dirty money drilled out of the desert in the form of climate-destroying fossil fuel. When a small group of people controls that much money, the source no longer matters, and the owners can literally do anything. They can torture and kill a journalist in front of the whole world. They can starve Yemeni babies to death and bomb the hell out of an ancient city on TV, and no one will do a damn thing.

The takeover of American golf is just one strategic move in a larger game of washing the human rights stain away. Sport-washing. Art-washing. Green-washing, Tech-washing, and fempowerment-washing.

Sometimes these ops look too risible to take seriously. The United Arab Emirates, where royal princesses are locked up like medieval Rapunzels, has a "Dubai Women Establishment," led by various female members of the royal clan. In its literature, this body notes that women in Dubai can vote, that there are women in the government, and an all-female police force is being created.

These feints do get taken seriously, as oceans of cash erase laughter, critics, truth-tellers, memory, even satire. Those who persists in pointing at the emperor's new clothes can go to the dungeon for a long time.

Before we get to that, though, let's remember that American sports corruption is nothing new. Besides the epic sexual harassment and abuse of women that goes like apple pie with pro ball, billionaire team owners regularly fleece the American taxpayer. Who pays for the new stadiums planted like shiny spaceships from Planet Money in neighborhoods with crumbling schools, no grocery stores, gun violence, squalor?

We bought them.

Since 2000, American taxpayers have blown $4.3 billion to build professional sports stadiums and arenas. When they come to the trough, team owners and their lackeys always argue that new stadiums will provide economic growth for a city. Economists and urban planners disagree. After a season of NFL and Washington football team deflecting sexual harassment complaints, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Don Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced a bill titled the "No Tax Subsidies for Stadiums Act" that would turn off the spigot, effective immediately upon enactment.

The bill has not been considered, let alone enacted. Expect an asteroid hit before that happens.

Back to Gulf golf.

Pro golfers who resisted the LIV's king's-ransom contracts (golfer Phil Mickelson, for example, signed for $200 million—an offer any of us might have had a hard time turning down) very rightly called out the country's abysmal human rights record.

The resisters were, of course, thinking of the very public torture/murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi henchmen chopped off his fingers before strangling him , burning his body, and washing the ashes down a drain in the lamb barbecue pit at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

That is probably all the evidence we need regarding the limitless impunity the wealth fund enjoys. But the Kingdom's dungeons are populated with men and women whose names you have never heard of, whose only crime is speech. Last year, a Saudi court sentenced a woman named Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years in prison. A "Specialized Criminal Court convicted her of 'using the Internet to tear the [country's] social fabric' and 'violating the public order by using social media,' according to court documents. That sentence followed a 34-year sentence handed down to another woman for tweeting. "Only weeks after this month's shocking 34-year sentence of Salma al-Shehab, al-Qahtani's 45-year sentence, apparently for simply tweeting her opinions, shows how emboldened Saudi authorities feel to punish even the mildest criticism from its citizens," said Abdullah Alaoudh, Director of Research for the Gulf Region at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), at the time.

These autocracies steal people’s lives over mere tweets and blogged words. Jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was released in 2021, after ten years and a disgusting public flogging. So was Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al Hathloul after being, according to her family, tortured while imprisoned for advocating for women's right to drive. Al Hathloul is now suing the Saudi government and some US intelligence operatives for an illegal spying operation paid for by the UAE. The UAE firm is called The Dark Matter Group. The name should trigger a global end-of-irony alert or be logged as further evidence that we have, as a species, wormholed ourselves into a parallel universe based on a Marvel comic book.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization that advocates against surveillance and is handling Al Hathloul's case: "Al Hathloul is among the victims of an illegal spying program created and run by former U.S. intelligence operatives, including the three defendants named in the lawsuit, who worked for a U.S. company hired by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the wake of the Arab Spring protests to identify and monitor activists, journalists, rival foreign leaders, and perceived political enemies."

The hacking of Al Hathloul's phone was part of the UAE's widespread and systematic attack against human rights defenders, activists, and other perceived critics of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. According to her lawyers, the Emirati regime used information hacked from Hathloul's phone to arrest and extradite her to Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf royals' cybersurveillance addiction is well known. Eighteen human rights groups recently implored Microsoft to back out of a plan to build a regional cloud center in Saudi Arabia. “There is an enormous risk” that Saudi authorities may obtain access to data stored in Microsoft's cloud data center, thus posing unique and direct threats to human rights and privacy, the human rights groups said.

The leaders are keenly aware of what the West wants to see. The image of Saudi Arabia is stage-managed by the world's greatest masters of slick storytelling and high-end reputation enhancement, the dervishes of damage control. This sleight of hand is pulled off with vast sums of borderless wealth. Soon enough, people who spectate American golf will forget who owns it.

What does hundreds of billions or a trillion dollars in a single sovereign wealth fund controlled by a few buy besides golf? Bankers, engineering firms, architects, luxury realtors, movie stars, artists, white-shoe lawyers. Managers and "creatives" across the globe salivate for these cash deals. The hoard buys protectors who paper over a medieval system based on the bedrock principle that unregulated females will destroy the social fabric. If the possessors of that money do something untoward, legions of men and women at the world's biggest public relations and law firms in New York and Washington and London form a virtual phalanx around them.


Nina Burleigh is a a journalist, author, documentary producer, and publisher ofAmerican Political Freakshow, a Substack on politics. Her journalism has been published in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Airmail, and New York. She is the author of seven books including most recently Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic and an adjunct professor at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Please consider subscribing to American Political Freakshow, from which this is reprinted with permission.

A Golf Coup, Led By Saudi Blood Money And The 'Commander-in-Cheat'

A Golf Coup, Led By Saudi Blood Money And The 'Commander-in-Cheat'

Here’s the big question in Jock Culture these days: Is the Kingdom of Golf being used to sportswash the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Or is it the other way around? After all, what other major sport could use a sandstorm of Middle Eastern murder and human-rights abuses to obscure its own history of bigotry and greed? In fact, not since the 1936 Berlin Olympics was used to cosmeticize Nazi Germany’s atrocities and promote Aryan superiority have sports and an otherwise despised government collaborated so blatantly to enhance their joint international standings.

Will it work this time?

The jury has been out since the new Saudi-funded LIV Tour made an early August stop at the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey. (That LIV comes from the roman numerals for 54, the number of holes in one of its tourneys.) And I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that it was hosted by a former president so well known for flouting golf’s rules that he earned the title Commander-in-Cheat for what, in the grand scheme of things, may be the least of his sins.

That tournament featured 10 of the top 50 players in the world. They were poached by the Saudis from the reigning century-old Professional Golfers Association (PGA), reportedly for hundreds of millions of dollars in signing bonuses and prize money. It was a shocking display for a pastime that has traded on its image of honesty and sportsmanship, not to mention an honor system that demands players turn themselves in for any infractions of the rules, rare in other athletic events where gamesmanship is less admired.

No wonder our former president hailed the tour as “a great thing for Saudi Arabia, for the image of Saudi Arabia. I think it’s going to be an incredible investment from that standpoint, and that’s more valuable than lots of other things because you can’t buy that — even with billions of dollars.”

The tournament was held soon after Joe Biden gave that already infamous fist bump to crown prince and de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman. The two events radically raised bin Salman’s prestige at a moment when, thanks to the war in Ukraine, oil money was just pouring into that kingdom, and helped sportswash the involvement of his countrymen in the 9/11 attacks, as well as the brutal murder and dismemberment of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Deals They Couldn’t Refuse

The buy-off money came from the reported $347 billion held by the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Top golfers were lured into the LIV tour with sums that they couldn’t refuse. A former number-one player on the PGA tour, Dustin Johnson, asked about the reported $125 million that brought him onto the Saudi tour, typically responded by citing “what’s best for me and my family.”

Phil Mickelson, the most famous of the LIV recruits and a long-time runner-up rival of Tiger Woods, justified his reported $200 million in a somewhat more nuanced fashion. In a February interview at the website The Fire Pit Collective, he admitted that Saudi government officials are “scary motherfuckers,” have a “horrible record on human rights,” and “execute people… for being gay.” Yet he also insisted that the LIV was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

Family needs and the supposed inequities of the PGA’s previously hegemonic universe were the explanations a number of golfers used to justify biting the hand that had fed them for so long. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, the greatest recipient of PGA largesse and probably the greatest golfer of our time, if not any time, reportedly turned down an almost billion-dollar offer with sharp words for those who had gone for the quick cash.

The PGA obviously agreed and barred any golfer who took up the Saudi offers from its tournaments. In response, some of them promptly sued the PGA.

The Kingdom of Golf

On the face of it, creating a Kingdom of Golf might not seem like a crucial thing for a morally challenged monarchy to do. After all, golf isn’t exactly a charity or a social justice campaign that’s likely to signal your virtue. It’s just a game whose players use sticks to swat little balls into holes in the ground while strolling around. It’s not even good exercise and far less so if you’re driving the course in a motorized cart or hire a caddie to carry your sticks. And it gets worse. After all, the irrigation water and poisonous chemicals necessary to keep the playing fields luxuriantly green at all times are abetting ecological disaster.

Golf symbolized reactionary greed even before the Saudis entered the picture. For starters, its competitors are among the only professional athletes ranked purely by the cash prizes they’ve won. And the leading golfers invariably earn far more from endorsements and speaking engagements. The sport’s almost comic upper-class snootiness sometimes seems like an orchestrated distraction from the profound racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism lodged in its history and, even today, the discrimination against women that still exists at so many of the leading country clubs that sustain the game.

Golf has long been retrograde, exclusionary, and money-obsessed. To put that in perspective, the estimated revenue of the Professional Golf Association in 2019 was $1.5 billion — and it boasts a non-profit status that’s sometimes been questioned. Lucrative as it is, it also proved distinctly vulnerable to an attack by an oil-soaked autocracy that, in warming up to invade golf, had already invested in Formula One racing, e-sports, wrestling, and its most recent controversial purchase, a British Premier League soccer team (which provoked protests from fans and Amnesty International).

Still, the Saudis’ move on golf was even bolder, more ambitious, and somehow almost ordained to happen.

Unlike football and baseball, which are convenient amalgams of socialism for the owners (in their collusive cooperation) and dog-eat-dog capitalism for the players and other personnel, golf is more of a monarchy along the lines of, um, Saudi Arabia. Until the LIV Tour came along, the main PGA tour, that sport’s equivalent of the major leagues, had been all-powerful in its control over both golfers and venues.

Over the years, golfers have indeed complained about that, but except for Greg Norman, a 67-year-old Australian former champion, not too loudly. Now a highly successful clothing and golf-course-design entrepreneur, Norman is called the Great White Shark for his looks and aggressive style. No wonder he’s now the CEO of LIV Golf and the ringleader of the campaign to recruit the top pros to play in the breakaway tour.

Norman denies that he answers to the crown prince, but his attempts to distance himself from that ruthless Saudi ruler are not taken seriously by most observers of golf, including the Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins, who wrote:

“Let’s be frank. LIV Golf is nothing more than a vanity project for Norman and his insatiable materialism — and an exhibition-money scam for early-retiree divas who are terrified of having to fly commercial again someday. By the way, the supposed hundreds of millions in guaranteed contracts for a handful of stars — has anyone seen the actual written terms, the details of what Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson will have to do to collect that blood-spattered coin, or is everyone just taking the word of Norman and a few agents trying to whip up commissions that it’s all free ice cream?”

One of the best sports columnists, Jenkins may seem excessive in her attack on Norman, but the passions that golf and Saudi Arabia have raised separately only increase in tandem. On the one hand, there’s the outrage when it comes to Saudi Arabia’s murderous human-rights abuses and Washington’s continuing complicity with the regime, thanks in particular to its ongoing massive arms sales to that country. (The latest of those deals, largely Patriot missiles sold to that country for $3 billion, feels distinctly like a kind of bribery.)

On the other hand, there’s the long-standing resentment of golf as a symbol of rich, white, male supremacy. In fact, it’s still seen as a private meeting place to create and maintain relationships that will lead to significant political and business decisions, the sports equivalent of, um, Saudi missile deals.

The pro golfers profiting from the current bonanza may not engender much sympathy, but the derision for their materialism should, at least, be put in context. Until the LIV came along, they had next to no options in their sport and few of them made Mickelson- or Johnson-style money. Worse yet, their lonely gunslinger lifestyles made unionization at best the remotest of possibilities, especially for figures deeply wired into the corporate community through their sponsorship deals.

The Saudi golf coup (because that’s indeed what it is) has taken place at an interesting juncture for the sport and its two most compelling figures, Trump and Tiger, who have indeed played together, both seeming to enjoy the trash talk that went with the experience.

Tiger in Twilight

Tiger, who is now in steep decline, has long been the face of the sport at its most accomplished, captivating, and richest despite, or perhaps because of, his paradoxical nature.

His first auto accident in 2009 revealed a tortured soul involved in a maelstrom of sexual infidelities and occasioned a re-evaluation of his mythic rise. No surprise then that he’s struggled ever since, briefly regaining his form before more accidents and surgeries diminished his dominance.

As long as he continued to show up and hit a ball, popular interest in the game was sustained and the PGA’s grip held firm. As he diminished, however, so did public fascination with golf.

In a way, he had been Tiger-washing the sport. It was hard to sustain a critique of golf’s retrograde and exclusionary nature, however justified, while it hid behind his Black face. Of course, that vision of golf was already wearing thin when Tiger refused to define himself as African-American, preferring “Cablinasian” — meant to reflect his racial mix of Caucasian, Black, (American) Indian, and Asian.

With Tiger, at 46, fading as an active force, PGA golf had already become vulnerable to a coup long before the Saudis and The Donald appeared on the scene. And who could have been a handier guy for those Middle Eastern royals than one with such experience in coups, even if his first try, with all those armed deplorables, failed on January 6, 2021.

This time around, though, Trump had millionaires with golf clubs, Middle Eastern oil royalty, and the equivalent of bottomless sacks of PAC money.

And, of course, with Trump involved, anything could happen. The first time he was infamously linked to sports, in the early 1980s as the owner of the New Jersey Generals of the upstart United States Football League (USFL), he managed to destroy his own organization in what would emerge as his signature style of reckless, narcissistic malfeasance. An early Trump lie (in an interview with me, no less) was that the USFL would continue its summer schedule so as not to interfere with the National Football League’s winter one. Within days of that statement, he led a lawsuit aimed at forcing a merger of his league and the National Football League. It ended badly for Trump and the USFL.

This time around, Trump has said that the LIV Tour would avoid scheduling tournaments in conflict with major PGA events. That will probably turn out to be anything but the case, too. So how will his latest foray into Jock Culture play out? Will the PGA beat back the Saudi coup (maybe by raising its prize money) or will the Saudis burnish their global image through a sport undeservedly renowned for integrity and class?

And what about the Commander-in-Cheat? If only this Saudi enterprise would leave him too busy on the links (not to speak of fighting off jail in connection with those purloined secret documents of his) to run for the presidency again in 2024.

Ultimately, whether Saudi Arabia or golf gets sportswashed, it’s Trump we need to rinse out of our lives.

Copyright 2022 Robert Lipsyte

Robert Lipsyte is aTomDispatch regular and a former sports and city columnist for the New York Times. He is the author, among other works, of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland.

Reprinted with permission fromTomDispatch

In Ethics Violation,Trump Displays Presidential Seal At Saudi Golf Tourney

In Ethics Violation,Trump Displays Presidential Seal At Saudi Golf Tourney

Former President Trump has continued to use the presidential seal eighteen months after exiting the White House despite ethics complaints and the risk of running afoul of federal law.

In a report on Friday, the Washington Post disclosed that the presidential seal was seen affixed to multiple items at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey — as the one-time president hosts the controversial Saudi Arabian-sponsored LIV Golf tournament in light of the Saudi government’s alleged human rights abuses.

“The seal was plastered on towels, golf carts, and other items,” the Post stated. The wall of a viewing room on the 18th green also had the seal on it, according to The Independent, despite complaints that the image was being exploited for commercial purposes.

The Post also noted that using the “presidential and vice-presidential seals in ways that could convey a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government of the United States” violates federal law and could result in “imprisonment of not more than six months, a fine, or both.”

The report comes one year after a nonpartisan ethics watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington, demanded the Justice Department investigate the ex-president’s Bedminster golf club’s illegal use of the seal.

The watchdog filed a criminal complaint last July after the seal was spotted on a tee golf marker in an Instagram photo earlier that month.

However, as is his nature, Trump has persisted in wanton disregard for ethics, law, and civility. In June, a Forbes reporter called attention to an Instagram photo posted in April showing the seal in the grass near the 18th hole near the Trump International golf course in West Palm Beach, Florida.

ProPublica disclosed in a 2018 report that the Trump Organization had ordered “dozens” of golf course markers bearing the presidential emblem, which denotes the possibility of their use for commercial purposes.

The seal has appeared in at least four of Trump’s golf clubs so far, including one in the Bronx and another in Jupiter, Florida.

In its 2021 criminal complaint, the watchdog accused Trump of illegally profiting from the presidential emblem while “actively challenging the legitimacy” of President Biden’s victory.

“Unlawful use of the presidential seal for commercial purposes is no trivial matter, especially when it involves a former president who is actively challenging the legitimacy of the current president,” the ethics watchdog wrote.

The flagrant use of the presidential logo isn’t the only controversy encircling the former president, who the Justice Department is reportedly investigating for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

9/11 justice groups slammed Trump for hosting the cash-rich LIV Golf event “less than 50 miles from Ground Zero” and denounced participating golfers as “cowards” for denying that they were partaking in the tournament solely for the money.

“If we can’t get a golfer to at least look us in the eye and tell us they are doing it for the money and they don’t give a s*** about the atrocities of Saudi Arabia, they’re cowards,” said a protester whose father died in the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Trump dismissed the criticism, some of which originated from families of survivors and victims of 9/11.

“I don’t know much about the 9/11 families, I don’t know what is the relationship to this, and their very strong feelings, and I can understand their feelings,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.