LIV Golf first impressions show Saudi-backed series market

NORTH PLAINS, Ore. – First impressions go a long way. After spending three days at the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, one thing is clear: there is a market for this upstart tour.

It all depends on what you want to get out of a golf tournament.

If you are a golf fan who loves the game for history and competition, these events will not be for you. But if you’re a general sports fan who loves festivals and marching band, you might be interested.

When you walk through the front doors, you immediately encounter the series’ selling points on signs lining the walking path: 48 players, 12 teams, 54 holes, no cuts, shotgun tee times. Night and day of a normal professional golf tournament, and that’s exactly what LIV and her players want.

Workers rushed to build structures in the two days before the start of the game, with parts of the supporters’ village still to be built less than 24 hours before the start of the shotgun Thursday at 1:15 p.m. local time . As the doors opened at 10 a.m. for fans, they got to see what the Public Investment Fund – Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that backs LIV Golf – is capable of.

A few steps further to the left and you see the fan village, filled with food options ($5 for beer, $10 for wine and cocktails, and $15 for meals, so if you just want a little snack, good luck), a kids zone and golf activities ranging from putting and chipping challenges to mini-golf and even a performance center loaded with multiple digital hitting bays and, for some reason, video games race.

Performers on unicycles and bicycles with juggling equipment circled the course during the game. ‘Alcohol checkers’ are on patrol in bright yellow shirts to make sure no fans is overused.

You almost forget you’re at a golf tournament.

Despite the controversy surrounding LIV Golf due to the source of its funding coming from an oppressive regime linked to terrorism and human rights abuses, fans don’t seem to care. They love activities outside of golf, but more than that, they just want to see the pros. LIV may not have it all figured out, but coming to an area that loves golf and is hungry for tournaments was smart.

Same with their ticket discounts. Active-duty military members and veterans are free to enter LIV events, as are children 15 and under with a ticketed adult. The series also offers 25% discounts for students, teachers, medical professionals and first responders. Those who oppose the event say it’s beneficial not to have to worry about making a profit and they fold, while optimists argue it should happen in other events. Both can be true.

And as for the players, they seem legitimately happy to be here this week – a thriving bank account and at least $120,000 for finishing in last place for three days of work can do that. LIV not only pays the way for the players, but also their caddies. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness hasn’t seen a LIV event. It’s like you’re in that bubble where everything seems too good to be true.

Fewer fans and fewer players creates an interesting vibe around the pitch, and the players eat it. On the course after Wednesday’s pro-am, Phil Mickelson joked with Matthew Wolff that it’s nice not to have to behave like a bobblehead on every hole. Instead of four amateurs per group and one player, the LIV format is two players and two amateurs and closed to fans. Another subtle change to normal tour life that players are enjoying.

With actual team rosters and names changing between events, it’s impossible to accept that aspect at this time (don’t tell the dozens of fans wearing Mickelson’s Hy Flyers hats). Most Thursday fans couldn’t name more than four of the 12 teams, let alone a full roster. That said, the series will expand to 14 events and rebrand itself as LIV Golf League in 2023, and is expected to announce another player as soon as this weekend.

Love it or hate it, LIV Golf seems to be here for the long haul.

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Sandy A. Greer