This week, the Saudi International takes place for the first time under the umbrella of the Asian Tour and at the same time gathers the strongest field of players in tournament history in Jeddah. Why many of the PGA Tour players will make the long journey to Saudi Arabia should be clear to most. It is said that the players receive up to seven-figure sums just for playing. Of course, no one wants to say this publicly. Instead, the question arises year after year: For what reason do the players make such an effort?
The “Growing Game”. Real or just a politically correct discourse?
For a long time, “Growing the Game” was at the top of answers list, including both men and women, especially while the tournament was under the patronage of DP World, formerly the European Tour. In fact, that was the excuse that fit perfectly with the narrative of the global tour. Besides, the core mission was to revitalise the sport through new formats and venues, and surely the Growing Game speech looked ideal from the outside in.
New PR strategy at Saudi International
The DP World Tour has let itself off the hook by not renewing contract with the Saudis. Meanwhile, they seek for a minimum level of respect for the Saudi International. Also, it is convenient to the DP World Tour to keep the hurdles low for the big golf stars by buying into the Asian Tour. That this is but a step towards the long-awaited Saudi Super League of our own is obvious to many. Especially after the announcement of the series of ten tournaments that belong to the Asian Tour, which is sponsored by LIV Golf Investements.
The PGA Tour’s already elaborate defence strategy of denying participation to its players for lack of membership has now been breached. The way is paved for golf’s stars, but not entirely unrestricted. So what will be the new “I make a lot of money and voluntarily disregard human rights violations” this year? Shane Lowry tells us, and so does does Bryson DeChambeau.
The perfect excuse: “I’m not a politician.”
As if this fact exempts one from having an opinion or responsibility of one’s own, Lowry and DeChambeau excuse themselves by claiming that they are “not politicians”. Tyrrell Hatton pulls his head out of the noose even more expertly. “I agree with what Shane said,” was their response when Golf Post asked them about human rights and the controversies surrounding the tournament at media events in the run-up to the Saudi International.
When will people finally start speaking out?
In other words, the participants are still shying away from a public discussion about the topic. The latest answers at least show more awareness than, for instance, Bubba Watson’s “I like to travel and see other places”. But it only proves that the golfers don’t care as long as there is enough money involved. After all, just like Lowry says: “I’m earning a living for myself and my family and trying to provide for them. This is just part of it.” After earning over €16 million in prize money, an unconvincing argument to the least.
The other side of the coin: Golf boost.
There is no denying that the Saudis’ investment gives golf a decent boost. Apart from the efforts at home, the question is justified to what extent the PGA Tour’s record prize money, the strategic alliance with the European Tour, as well as its cooperation with DP World, and the increase in prize money, were triggered by the developments around the possible competition of a Saudi Super League or even a Premier Golf League. According to the motto “competition stimulates business”.
On the other hand, press conferences and marketing before the Saudi International are the best example of “sportswashing” in action. Instead of legitimate critical questions, it’s all about superficial matters. There is more attention going into the last Christmas, and the upcoming Netflix documentary, among other topics. Not to mention how beautiful the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, venue of the Saudi International, is. Not only media, but also golf fans alike are fed up. The visibility of the Saudi International on English free TV has grown a lot. However, despite the multiple other sport press conferences, no one is speaking out.
Considerably more honorable to be straight up
National Club golfer Alex Perry is not entirely wrong. “We’d have a lot more respect for you guys if you’d just say you’re only doing it for the money. We can all relate to that. You are not politicians, but you are human beings.”
In contrast, Jason Kokrak, is an ambassador for Saudi Golf. Kokrak comes across as downright refreshing with his brutal honesty: “Money makes the world go round. If someone pays me enough money so that my children’s children have an advantage in life, then I’ll take full advantage of it.”