[PHOTO: Mandel Ngan]

Ahead of today’s Congressional hearing, PGA Tour chief operating officer and co-acting commissioner Ron Price has posted an op-ed in The Athletic, outlining the tour’s pitch to the United States Senate regarding its planned alliance with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

In the piece Price writes there remains misinformation and misunderstanding about the framework agreement, although concedes that the tour is partially at fault for the messaging. “That’s something we take full ownership of and deeply regret,” Price writes. “Moving forward, we firmly believe that the more the facts are discussed and understood, the further our constituents can support a potential definitive agreement – if reached – and look forward to the positive and lasting impact on all levels of our game.”

Price specifically cites that the alliance with the PIF is not a “merger”, which has been echoed by several tour leaders after the word was used in the joint news release. Instead, Price writes, the PGA Tour will remain intact, and the new subsidiary, named “PGA Tour Enterprises”, will include PIF as a non-controlling minority investor.

As for why the agreement is happening, Price says there are two reasons that explain the partnership’s benefits.

“First, the agreement provides clear, explicit and permanent safeguards that ensure the PGA Tour will lead the decisions that shape our future, and that we’ll have control over our operations, strategy and continuity of our mission,” Price writes. “Second, if we get a final agreement, it will allow us to further invest in the players who define our sport, and the events, venues, communities and technology that bring it to life. Working in partnership with the membership and Policy Board, we are stewards of the organisation’s long-term health and leadership. Weighed against the prospect of a continued, unsustainable battle that threatened our very existence, given the safeguards that guarantee our self-determination and the possibilities afforded by new investments, ‘yes’ was the clear answer to the framework agreement.”

Price and Jimmy Dunne will represent the tour later today in Congress. The hearing, “The PGA-LIV Deal: Implications for the Future of Golf and Saudi Arabia’s Influence in the United States,” is part of a Congressional probe opened by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in response to the surprising partnership announced June 6 between the tour and PIF. According to Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) the deal “raises concerns about the Saudi government’s role in influencing this effort and the risks posed by a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution”. The alliance could be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which analyses mergers regarding potential threats to that nation’s security.

Dunne, along with tour board member Ed Herlihy, facilitated the deal between the tour and Saudi Arabia. Price is currently acting as co-commissioner in the absence of Jay Monahan, who stepped down from his role following an undisclosed health issue on June 13. Though Monahan announced on July 7 that he will return to his post from July 17, he is not expected to be at the hearing.

Also skipping the hearing are LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman and PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. According to the Senate, both Norman and Al-Rumayyan said scheduling issues would prevent them from testifying. Blumenthal has threatened to strip the tour’s tax-exempt status over the Saudi deal, although the proposed partnership between the tour and PIF would be a for-profit entity. Additionally, the tour continues to be under an antitrust probe by the US Department of Justice, and PIF’s investment into the tour is expected to fall under this investigation.

Price’s letter comes days after Randall Stephenson, a former AT&T executive and an influential voice in professional golf, resigned from his position on the PGA Tour’s policy board citing “serious concerns” with the tour’s proposed deal with PIF.

The hearing is expected to begin at 10am local time, which is midnight tonight, AEST.