LIV Golf-Augusta National feud heats up in latest round of legal filings
Even in the depths of winter the golf hot stove has remained warm thanks to multiple legal clashes. Recent court documents filed by the PGA Tour and LIV Golf show how intertwined (or not!) the fight in pro golf’s upper ranks has been.
According to court documents released Monday, LIV Golf’s lawyers have served subpoenas to six current or former PGA Tour policy board directors as well as former commissioner Tim Finchem. Buried in a joint statement between LIV and those directors were allegations lobbed by LIV against various members of Augusta National, which seems to be one of LIV’s new focuses. One of the initial requests included in each subpoena to those members was an overarching demand:
Please produce “All Communications between You and any member of Augusta National relating to a New Tour, including but not limited to LIV Golf.”
Much of the allegations in the statement remain confidential, but ANGC members Condoleezza Rice — the former Secretary of State — and Warren Stephens were listed by LIV as having “apparently attempted to influence the DOJ (Department of Justice) to not investigate the [PGA] Tour.” Whether or not that is true — the complaints flying back and forth are highly contested by each side — the DOJ has launched an investigation into the PGA Tour for potential anti-competitive practices, as it has also done with both the USGA and Augusta National.
While many of the allegations in the documents were redacted, LIV continued to characterize the Tour’s work as an “us or them campaign,” adding, “Indeed, the threat of a change in relationship with Augusta’s members was used as a stick to discourage one of the top golfers in the world from joining LIV.”
The lawsuit is an antitrust case wherein LIV has accused the PGA Tour of organizing a “group boycott” with other governing bodies like Augusta National, the DP World Tour, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A. Within its initial complaint, LIV alleged that representatives from Augusta National launched an anti-LIV campaign, threatening to disinvite LIV players from future Masters tournaments if they joined the upstart league.
The PGA Tour policy board directors collectively made their case as well in the joint statement. The group is Ed Herlihy (policy board chairman), Mary Meeker, Mark Flaherty, Randall Stephenson, former director Victor Ganzi and former commissioner Finchem. (Meeker’s name led the statement because she is a California resident, where the lawsuit has been filed.) LIV’s theory that the Tour “seeded doubt” among top golfers that they’d be banned “is entirely baseless as demonstrated by the fact that the Masters has allowed LIV golfers to compete in the 2023 Masters,” the subpoenaed party statement read. It was just one month ago that Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced that any players already qualified for the 2023 tournament would be invited to play.
Just because LIV has served subpoenas to these Tour-adjacent people doesn’t mean they will receive all of the documents they desire. As part of the joint statement, LIV’s reduced its initial request for communications from the Augusta National membership of “approximately 300” to a narrower list of 21 individuals and the Masters Tournament Committee.
The policy board directors think that list is is still too broad, requesting in the documents that the group further be trimmed to just 11 names. The 11 that both sides have agreed upon are Ridley, Will Jones, Casey Coffman, Steve Ethun, Buzzy Johnson, Taylor Glover, Pat Battle, Terry McGuirk, Brian Roberts, Kessel Stelling and Lee Styslinger. Four of those are ANGC employees and seven are members. Among the others on LIV’s choice list: Rice, former chairman Billy Payne and new policy board director Jimmy Dunne.
LIV’s list is too broad, the directors argue, because many members of the Masters Committee do not hold positions of any relevance to the case. Many of them handle issues like Masters concessions, tee and hole locations, parking and traffic, etc. They note that much of the evidence LIV cites is because “there are many people who dislike LIV Golf, LIV’s Saudi backers and what they stand for, and that some of those individuals have chosen to share their personal opinions about LIV with professional golfers and others.”
So, where does it leave us? Judge Susan van Keulen will be expected to rule soon on just which Augusta National members can be included in the discovery efforts via the subpoenas. And just because they’ll be included does not mean the lawsuit will be loaded with communication documents. Augusta National and its members are famously tight-lipped about all operations involving the club.