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European Tour commissioner defends Saudi Arabia event: ‘We will be back’

May 3, 2019

Earlier this year, the European Tour debuted a new event: the Saudi International, which was contested at Royal Greens G&CC in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. The event was met with immediate criticism— especially for the top-tier players who were paid sizable appearance fees to play there.

Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a $3.2 million-plus offer, but fellow big-namers Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter all opted to play the event instead of the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, which was happening during the same week. DJ ended up winning the inaugural event by two shots over Haotong Li.

Brandel Chamblee didn’t mince words when voicing his opinion on the tournament. “By participating,” he said on Golf Channel, “[the players] are ventriloquists for [Saudi Arabia’s] abhorrent, reprehensible regime.”

Dustin Johnson won the European Tour's inaugural Saudi International by two shots.
Dustin Johnson won the European Tour's inaugural Saudi International by two shots.
Getty Images

Despite the negativity, European Tour commissioner Keith Pelley says the Tour will return to Saudi Arabia next year. “It was the right decision for our tour,” Pelley told Reuters. “We will be back in Saudi and we’ll continue to grow that event. We believe our role will help the evolution of the country.”

Pelley also believes that the golf event was unfairly singled out when it came to public backlash.

“There was Italian Super Cup with AC Milan and Juventus (in January) and Ronaldo scored the winning goal and celebrated, and we tried to find any kind of criticism for Ronaldo, yet our players were criticized,” Pelley said. “Why was golf singled out? I was perplexed why we were.

“I went over there first and listened to his Excellency (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) at a sports conference, talk about how … the country wanted to change, needed to change, wanted to use sports as a catalyst, was committed to golf.”

The European Tour also competes in Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Turkey. But it appears that negative feelings about dealings with Saudi Arabia are still fresh. Just last week, Ladies European Tour player Carly Booth faced so much online backlash over her Golf Saudi sponsorship announcement that she ended up deleting the tweet.

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