NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Despite all the controversy surrounding LIV Golf — the Saudi-funded series is funded by a country known for trafficking in terrorism and human rights abuses, its creation has angered the PGA Tour and its players, by At the same time it puts the majors in a tough spot: The fans don’t seem to care much.
In fact, they argue, the PGA Tour — and all the major sporting events and leagues — could learn a thing or two from LIV.
“Beers are cheap here, only $5!” exclaimed Benjamin Beecher of Tacoma, Washington, who drove south for about two hours for the organization’s first American event. “I’ll pay $70 to drink $5 beers and watch great pro golfers and I don’t care (expletive) who’s selling the tickets.”
Beecher’s attitude was echoed by several fans who spoke to USA TODAY Sports on Thursday during the first day of play at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, located 20 miles west of downtown Portland.
Is LIV’s main source of money problematic? Absolutely, they said. But doesn’t everyone (organizations, corporations, and politicians on both sides of the aisle) have ties to something that makes you uncomfortable?
“The only difference with this is that it’s more transparent,” said Daniel Freauf, who lives in Salem, 45 minutes south of Portland. He drove with his wife Charlotte and his three children, including a 1-month-old newborn. “A lot of people try to brag, but the reality is that we all pay taxes and their taxes sometimes go to other countries that help them build bombs. We are all complicit in it in some way. And I want to see Phil Mickelson play.”
It’s not that bad either, they insisted, as their children gathered grass and laughed at a ball that went flying into the crowd.
“There are changing tables and nursing stations here, everything is clean and there is a lot of stuff for the kids,” Charlotte said. “That can be hard to find at a sporting event.”
LIV’s first event in London was capped at 8,000 entries, but tournament officials refused to give an attendance number for Pumpkin Ridge (it wasn’t full). What is also unknown is how many attendees actually paid for tickets instead of receiving free passes.
The day was by no means without controversy: Early Thursday morning, a group of family members whose loved ones died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks held a nearby news conference to denounce LIV golfers who “took blood money. Local and national politicians have expressed outrage that the tournament will be held in Portland.
But because the actual field, located three miles from a main highway, is relatively isolated, there were no casual onlookers passing by. The only people here were devoted fans, curious to see what all the fuss was about.
LIV bills itself as “golf, but stronger” and at least on Thursday, that was true. There were skydivers and jugglers riding unicycles. Live concerts are scheduled each night after the game concludes. Almost everyone agrees that LIV is a spectacle, and a far cry from traditional golf tournaments, where spectators are often silent. It’s different, for sure, and that’s part of why people like it.
As the music blared through the fan festival and 12 teams of four played tee shot, 5-year-old Tanner Austen attempted a hole-in-one at one of the children’s events. He crouched down, biting his lip as he scanned the distance, and…missed. He agreed to high five for comfort and pats on the back with a smile on his face.
Tanner’s dad, Christian, teamed up with a friend, Chris Galloni, and they split a $90 family pass, getting them in with Tanner, Taylor (3) and Tyson (15). Everyone loves to play golf, even the little ones. (The moms had the day off and headed to the beach, no kids.)
“Stars never come to Portland,” said Galloni, who said part of LIV’s appeal is its fast-start, team format, which is more familiar to the casual golfer playing with friends and at work tournaments. Watching this version of professional golf is both relatable and “pure entertainment.”
Seeing “some killer golfers” on a course where he regularly plays with friends was a huge bonus for Portland resident Shawn Kuhns.
Scotty Webb, also of Portland, agreed.
“This isn’t just some quagmire coming up, this is world-class golf,” he said. “When you put on that scale, I appreciate it, I enjoy it.”
Also note: Big-time golf hasn’t been in the Northwest since 2015, when the US Open was played in Chambers Bay, about an hour southwest of Seattle. Most casual golf fans don’t have the money (or the vacation time) to travel to the stops on the PGA Tour, let alone any of the major ones. And who knows how long LIV will be. If this is the only time some of the world’s best athletes pass through town, why not go?
“This is the first sporting event I’ve attended since COVID and it’s amazing,” Portland resident Frank Anderson said. “This is probably one of the best golf tournaments I’ll ever get a chance to go to, you know, 20 miles from my house. Sign me up.”
Contributor: Adam Woodward, Golfweek