NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — For all the controversy surrounding LIV Golf — the Saudi-funded series is bankrolled by a country known to traffic in human rights abuses, its creation has infuriated the PGA Tour and its players, all while putting the majors in a tough spot — fans don ‘t seem to care much.
In fact, they argue, the PGA Tour, and all major sporting events and leagues for that matter, could learn a thing or two from LIV.
“Beers are cheap here, only $5!” exclaimed Benjamin Beecher of Tacoma, Washington, who drove south about two hours for the organization’s first-ever US event. “I’ll pay $70 to drink $5 beer and watch big-time pro golfers and I don’t give a (expletive) who’s selling the tickets.”
Beecher’s attitude was echoed by multiple 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 primary 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 make you uncomfortable?
“The only difference with this is, it’s more transparent,” said Daniel Freauf, who lives in Salem, 45 minutes south of Portland. He drove up with his wife Charlotte and their three children, including a 1-month-old newborn. “Lots of people try to grandstand, but the reality is, we all pay taxes and your taxes sometimes go to other countries that help them build bombs. We are all complicit in it in some way. And I want to watch Phil Mickelson play.”
It’s not all bad either, they insisted, as his kids picked grass and giggled at a ball that went flying toward the crowd.
“There are changing stations and nursing stations here, everything is clean and there’s so much stuff for kids,” said Charlotte. “That can be hard to find at a sporting event.”
LIV’s first event in London was capped at 8,000 tickets, but tournament officials declined to give an attendance number for Pumpkin Ridge (it wasn’t crowded). What’s also unknown is how many attendees actually paid for tickets versus being gifted free passes.
The day was not controversy-free by any means: Early Thursday morning, a group of family members whose loved ones were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks held a press conference nearby decrying LIV golfers who have “taken the blood money.” Local and national politicians have expressed outrage that the tournament is being held in Portland.
But because the actual course, located three miles off a major highway, is relatively isolated, there were no casual onlookers passing by. The only people out here were devout fans, curious to see what all the fuss was about.
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LIV bills itself as “golf, but louder” and at least Thursday, that was true. There were skydivers and jugglers riding unicycles. Live concerts are scheduled each night after play concludes. Pretty much everyone agrees that LIV is a spectacle, and a far cry from traditional golf tournaments, where onlookers are often shushed. It’s different, for sure — and that’s part of why people like it.
As music thumped across the fan festival and 12 teams of four tee’d off for a shotgun start, 5-year-old Tanner Austen tried for a hole-in-one at one of the kids’ events. He crouched down, bit his lip while examining the distance and … missed. He accepted consolation high fives and pats on the back with a smile on his face.
Tanner’s dad, Christian, partnered with a buddy, Chris Galloni, and split a $90 family pass, which allowed them to get in with Tanner, Taylor (3) and Tyson (15). All love to play golf, even the toddler. (The moms got the day off and headed to the beach, kid-free.)
“The stars never come to Portland,” Galloni said, who said part of LIV’s appeal is its shotgun start and team format, which is more familiar to the casual golf fan who plays with friends and in work tournaments. Watching this version of professional golf is both relatable and “pure entertainment.”
Seeing “some killer golfers” on a course he regularly plays with friends was a huge plus for Shawn Kuhns, a Portland resident.
Scotty Webb, also from Portland, agreed.
“These aren’t just some sloughs coming around, this is premier golf,” he said. “When you put it on that scale, I appreciate that, I enjoy that.”
Also of note: big-time golf hasn’t been in the Northwest since 2015, when the US Open was played at Chambers Bay, about an hour southwest of Seattle. Most casual golf fans don’t have the money (or the vacation time) to travel to PGA Tour stops, let alone any of the majors. And who knows how long LIV will be around. If this is the only time some of the world’s best athletes swing through town, why not go?
“This is the first sporting event I’ve gone to since COVID and it’s amazing,” said Frank Anderson, a Portland resident. “This is probably one of the best golf tournaments I’ll ever get a chance to go to, you know, 20 miles away from my house. Sign me up.”
Contributing: Adam Woodard, Golfweek