Golf: Augusta National, US Golf Association drawn into Justice Department’s antitrust inquiry

The US Justice Department is investigating Augusta National Golf Club, venue of the Masters, for anti-competitive behavior in its dealings with LIV Golf, the breakaway Saudi-backed league. PHOTO: NYTIMES

DORAL, Florida The United States Justice Department’s antitrust inquiry into men’s professional golf – a sport splintered in 2022 by the emergence of LIV Golf, a lucrative circuit financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund – has in recent months come to include the organisers of some of the most hallowed and influential tournaments in the world, according to people familiar with the matter.

The US Golf Association (USGA), which administers the US Open, acknowledged on Wednesday that the Justice Department had contacted it in connection with an investigation.

A spokesman said it could “confirm that we have been contacted by the Department of Justice and are fully complying” with any requests from the government.

Augusta National Golf Club, which organises the US Masters tournament, and the PGA of America, which oversees the PGA Championship, have also drawn the gaze of antitrust officials.

The federal inquiry is unfolding in parallel with a separate civil suit filed in California by LIV Golf, accusing the PGA Tour, which organises most of the week-to-week events in professional golf, of trying to muscle it out of the marketplace.

Moreover, LIV Golf has contended that Major tournament administrators, such as Augusta National and the PGA of America, aided in the PGA Tour’s urgent efforts to preserve its long standing as the premier circuit in men’s golf.

LIV Golf, for instance, has accused the leaders of the R&A, which runs the British Open, and Augusta National of pressuring the Asian Tour’s chief executive officer over support for the new series.

It also said that Fred S. Ridley, the Augusta National chair, had “personally instructed a number of participants in the 2022 Masters not to play in the LIV Golf Invitational Series” and that the club’s representatives had “threatened to disinvite players from the Masters if they joined LIV Golf”.

A handful of golfers, including six-time Major champion Phil Mickelson, joined the lawsuit but later withdrew their names from it, content to let LIV Golf wage the courtroom fight.

The PGA Tour had confirmed in July it was part of the Justice Department’s probe into whether it broke antitrust law.

LIV Golf executives have also fumed over perceived stalling by Official World Golf Ranking administrators to award ranking points to LIV players.

No Major tournament has said definitively how it will handle potential entries by players who have aligned themselves with LIV Golf. Mickelson had told sports magazine Sports Illustrated that he “wholeheartedly” expects to play at the Masters despite his LIV Golf affiliation.

The Masters is the next Major tournament on the calendar and is scheduled for early April, 2023. The antitrust case is scheduled for trial in 2024. NYTIMES, REUTERS

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