LIV Golf, the controversial and disruptive new international golf tour, is holding its fifth event of the year, the LIV Golf Invitational Chicago, teeing off today at Rich Harvest Farms.
LIV has turned the golfing world upside down with its aggressive courting of USPGA tour players – courting that involves enormous up-front payments or guarantees to sign. For instance, Johnson, a fairly early LIV acquisition, was reportedly paid or guaranteed between $125 – $150 million over 4 years to sign. Similar amounts have been doled out to other stars now on the tour. In response, the USPGA has banned all players who have signed with LIV, prompting anti-trust litigation from the banned players.
Critics of the new tour are also focusing on its funding, which comes from the Saudi Arabia sovereign investment fund, a massive investment fund effectively owned by the Saudi royal family. USPGA defenders cite the miserable human rights record of the Saudi’s, and specifically the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey in 2018, as reason to shun the tour. Defenders point out that the Saudi fund has investments in all kinds of household names such as Disney, Apple, etc., including sponsors of USPGA events, and that decrying its investment in LIV is pure hypocrisy.
So is LIV simply a case of innovators disrupting an old, established industry, or a public relations effort by an international pariah to burnish its image and distract from its human rights abuses?
The Justa Coupla Guys podcast asked Alex Kline-Wedeen, Executive Vice President of Marketing at Rich Harvest Farms. Here are a few excerpt from that discussion. The full podcast can be heard below or on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.
On the controversy surrounding the LIV tour.
That’s something that the leadership here, the Rich family, myself, [General Manager] John Meagher, we took very seriously when we looked at hosting this, and it was really an amazing opportunity. And opportunity is the word that I want to use because anytime that you’re disrupting, right, or creating something new, it’s gonna get a little bit of kickback, blowback. So my perspective is on Rich Harvest specifically, not LIV, but the opportunity to be on the ground floor of something so special was something that was really fantastic for us.
And as we looked at this, I had the opportunity to go to both Portland and New Jersey. The product itself is second to none. From the second you go in, it’s fun. It’s this exciting, vibrant, really unique product that I don’t feel is trying to compete with anyone.
We’re our own exciting entertainment, right? And I think that’s something that hasn’t been talked about enough. There’s music playing. There’s fun. There’s high-fives. There’s just this atmosphere that is more entertainment. Think football game, think tailgate.
Now golf is the mechanism around that. And it’s fantastic golf. I mean, you can just see by the fields we’ve got – Cam Smith, Dustin Johnson and Bryson [DeChambeau], but at the same time, it’s not that old stuffy golf that some people associate it with and it’s bringing in this younger, unique audience. That’s just fun.
On the aggressive, negative reaction from the US Professional Golfers Association:
I tell you from my vantage point, it doesn’t make much sense. I think there’s plenty of room in the sandbox for everybody to live happily ever after. And again, this product is so unique and so special that it needs to be viewed in a different microscope. I mean, it’s a different viewpoint.
One of the main reasons we brought this here, and one of the big things that hasn’t been talked about enough, is philanthropically. I mean, the LIV team is making a huge contribution to our kids’ golf foundation. So our kids’ golf foundation is really Jerry Rich’s baby. That means more to us than anything. We bring golf, but more importantly, life skills to youth throughout the state of Illinois from age five to 15, from east St. Louis to Chicago. And we go into these communities, a lot of them are underprivileged, single-parent, and we use golf through their gym classes, after school programs, but more importantly than just golf, we teach life skills, staying in school, staying off drugs, financial literacy components.
So the opportunity to partner with LIV, to bring that program to more kids, I mean, we’ve had over 200,000 kids go through that program in the last 20 years, and we’re just gonna be able to amplify that.
On whether Rich Harvest Farms has received any negative pushback from the USPGA:
We’re here to support our community, and that’s something that we couldn’t be more excited about. We’re excited by a lot of the charitable giving. That’s gonna be done by both Rich Harvest Farms, as well as LIV. Jerry Rich and the Rich family are here to support the community. So the money we bring in is gonna go back out to local local charities, and some national, and we’re here to play nice with everyone. We’re here to support everyone. We wanna see the game of, of golf grow. And I don’t know if that’s reciprocated by everyone, but that’s how we feel.