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Senator Opens Investigation Into PGA Tour Merger With Saudi-Backed LIV Golf

Fred Kfoury | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., opened an inquiry into the merger of PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf.
  • The merger put a stop to pending antitrust lawsuits between the two organizations and comes amid controversy over the Saudi Arabian government's plans for sports investment.
  • The Saudi government has been accused of wide-reaching human rights violations.

WASHINGTON — A top Democratic lawmaker launched a probe on Monday into the planned merger of the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., requested details of the agreement between the two organizations, including how the new combined entity will operate in light of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses, in letters to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman.

The letter from Blumenthal comes as the PGA Tour-LIV deal faces intense scrutiny and doubts about whether the merger can be completed, given the severity of prior claims in the golf leagues' prior litigation against each other.

The Saudi government has been accused of wide-reaching human rights violations, including the orchestration of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

9/11 Families United, a group representing the families of victims of the terrorist attack, also slammed the merger due to Saudi Arabia's involvement. Blumenthal has previously sided with victims' families when another organization, the 9/11 Justice group, protested a LIV event at a golf course owned by former President Donald Trump.

The June 6 merger announcement was a "sudden and drastic reversal of a position concerning LIV Golf," wrote Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The Tour and its commissioner had previously spoken out strongly against LIV and its role in professional golf.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government's Private Investment Fund, which owns LIV, had made clear plans to use investments in sports to further the Saudi government's objectives, according to Blumenthal's letter.

"PGA Tour's agreement with PIF regarding LIV Golf 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," Blumenthal wrote.

Before the agreement to merge, PGA Tour's rivalry with LIV included legal action between the two. The entities agreed to squash all pending litigation as part of their plan to combine commercial businesses and rights into a yet-unnamed for-profit company.

Monahan told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Tuesday that the merger is a benefit to the game of golf despite prior "tensions."

The agreement will require the approval of the PGA Tour policy board, according to a memo to players from Monahan.

"We are confident that once Congress learns more about how the PGA Tour will control this new venture, they will understand the opportunities this will create for our players, our communities and our sport, all while protecting an American golf institution," the tour told CNBC in a statement later Monday.

LIV Golf declined to comment on Blumenthal's letters.

Blumenthal asked for answers to several inquiries, including an outline of corporate structure and records of any disputes between the corporate heads and any other stakeholders, by June 26.

– CNBC's Jessica Golden contributed to this report.

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