Donald Trump has a reason to gloat. “GREAT NEWS FROM LIV GOLF,” he crowed on his Truth Social platform, referring to the Saudi-backed golf league that will be merging with the PGA Tour. A BIG, BEAUTIFUL, AND GLAMOROUS DEAL FOR THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF. CONGRATS TO ALL!!!”
For Trump, the blockbuster merger, announced Tuesday morning, is something of a personal victory. The world of professional golf has traditionally sought to avoid controversy, and Trump, a golf fanatic, represents a lot of controversy. Following his 2015 announcement that he was running for president, the PGA Tour began stepping back from Trump—shifting a tournament from his Miami course to Mexico. After the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the organizers of several of the major golf tournaments made it clear that Trump’s properties would never again host their prestigious events.
Trump fought back, quickly cozying up to LIV Golf, a renegade league launched last year. LIV, which is owned by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, was shunned by the mainstream professional golf community. It eagerly embraced Trump, who hosted several LIV events at his properties and used social media to promote the new organization—which focused on paying high-profile players exorbitant amounts and dumping some of golf’s more traditional rules (like the requirement that players wear pants).
LIV and the PGA Tour—the longstanding professional golf company that organizes most of the notable tournaments around the world—quickly began waging legal and financial warfare against each other. But now that they are joining forces, Trump is suddenly back in the main golf mix.
The details of the merger are not yet clear, but it does certainly seem like LIV is swallowing the PGA Tour. The Public Investment Fund—the Saudi entity that is essentially an arm of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s regime—will pour additional cash into the new joint venture. The fund’s governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, will become the chairman of the new combined golf organization, although the PGA Tour will appoint the majority of the board of directors. There may be more twists and turns in the saga—already some PGA Tour player dissent seems to be bubbling up, and more is likely to come. After all, during LIV’s campaign last year to lure away PGA players, a number of golfers turned down massive paydays and stuck with the PGA instead. Tiger Woods reportedly declined an $800 million LIV offer. These players might now feel burned.
Trump gleefully predicted this precise scenario last summer, when he warned that a merger was coming and that PGA Tour golfers like Woods would regret rejecting LIV’s offers: “All of those golfers that remain ‘loyal’ to the very disloyal PGA, in all of its different forms, will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes, and you get nothing but a big ‘thank you’ from PGA officials who are making Millions of Dollars a year. If you don’t take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were.”
Trump may be enjoying the schadenfreude, but he has a lot to gain financially, as well. While there were objections to LIV Golf based on style and format—it did away with large fields of golfers of varying abilities and limited its competitions to rosters of high-profile players on teams trying to win massive paydays—there was also a great deal of concern in the professional golf world over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Trump, of course, has never been bothered by associating with the Saudis—during his 2016 run, Trump bragged about his business dealings. “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them,” Trump said. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
While in office, Trump timidly side-stepped demands that he criticize the kingdom, even after the CIA concluded that MBS personally ordered the murder of dissident Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi.
So, it’s no surprise that when LIV Golf arrived on the scene, facing headwinds from the traditional professional golf world, Trump offered up his resorts as potential sites for LIV events. In the 2022 inaugural LIV season, two Trump properties—Doral, outside of Miami, and Bedminster, in New Jersey—hosted LIV tournaments. Trump’s Washington, DC-area resort hosted LIV just last weekend.
Trump has brushed aside complaints from families of 9/11 victims, who said his properties shouldn’t be hosting any tournaments with the Saudi-backed LIV. Last summer, Trump said that “nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11 unfortunately.” Last month, he said that he loved the 9/11 families, but he seemed to allude to his financial interests as a reason to continue partnering with LIV, telling reporters that “it’s tremendous economic development, tremendous number of jobs, just for an event like this—it’s a big event.”
LIV doesn’t disclose how much it paid Trump for the use of his properties (it will hold another tournament at Doral this year), but golf industry experts say it’s likely in the multi-million dollar range.
And any amount would more than zero, which is what the PGA Tour had been paying Trump in recent years. For 53 years, his Doral course—which Trump purchased in 2012—hosted a PGA event. That came to a screeching halt in 2015, following his presidential campaign announcement in which he labelled Mexican immigrants “rapists.” The PGA Tour acted swiftly, announcing, “Mr. Trump’s comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf.” The PGA Tour moved the event to a course in Mexico and has not returned to any Trump property since.
Similarly, the PGA Association—a related organization that spun off the PGA Tour decades ago—pulled the prestigious PGA Championship tournament from Trump’s Bedminster resort several days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Trump, who has reportedly seethed about that snub, is said to be obsessed with hosting major tournaments at his properties. At the time, sports columnist Rick Reilly told Mother Jones that the sting of losing the opportunity to host a major was probably worse than the financial impact of losing out on the money:
“He’s got to be devastated,” says longtime sports columnist Rick Reilly, who has golfed with Trump and wrote a 2019 book entitled Commander In Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. “This is going to be as bad as losing the election, which he did and he can’t deny any more than he can deny he no longer has a major.”
Now, however, having apparently chosen the winning side, Trump might see a path to getting his major back.