What is LIV Golf? Trump-Backed, Saudi-Funded Tour Tearing the Sport Apart

Donald Trump has urged top players to join LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded breakaway series that is coming to his New Jersey course in just over a week.

Ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational taking place at his Bedminster course on July 29 to 31, the former president suggested that golfers "take the money now"—angering opponents of the league.

The tour is financed by the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi government and has been described as a "sportswashing" exercise for the regime's human rights record.

LIV Golf has also been criticized by some of the sport's biggest stars, such as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. However, other prominent golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia have all signed up.

The PGA Tour has suspended a number of those who played in the first two LIV Golf events.

Former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and three more top players are expected to join the breakaway series imminently, the BBC has reported.

Henrik Stenson, who is understood to be one of the three, was removed as Europe's Ryder Cup captain on Wednesday.

Golfer Branden Grace of South Africa
Branden Grace of South Africa during the final round of the LIV Golf Invitational at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon on July 2. Controversy is swirling over the Saudi-backed breakaway golf series. Steve Dykes/Getty Images

The group 9/11 Justice, which represents victims of the attacks and their families, has sent a letter to Trump claiming Saudi Arabia was "largely responsible for the death of our loved ones."

Fifteen of the 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists who hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001, were Saudi nationals, although the Saudi government has denied any involvement. The 9/11 Commission concluded in 2004 there was "no evidence" that the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials had funded Al-Qaeda.

Brett Eagleson, whose father died in the attacks, told CNN that the FBI had investigated reports that Saudi officials helped the 9/11 hijackers.

"The former president correctly speculated in 2016 that Saudi Arabia knocked down the towers," Eagleson told the network, "yet he is choosing money over America. So much for America First. A sad day."

The LIV Golf Series, told Newsweek in a statement it shared with other media outlets that the families of 9/11 victims "have our deepest sympathy." It added: "We believe golf is a force for good around the world."

Trump said on Monday that golfers remaining loyal to the PGA "will pay a big price when the inevitable MERGER with LIV comes."

He wrote on Truth Social: "If you don't take the money now, you will get nothing after the merger takes place, and only say how smart the original signees were."

How Is the LIV Golf Series Played?

LIV is the Roman numeral for 54, which is the score if every hole on a par-72 course is a birdie. Each LIV competition is played over three rounds, as opposed to the four on mainstream tours.

Standard stroke play takes place over 54 holes but there is also a team element, presided over by a dozen captains.

The winner gets $4m prize money from a $20m individual pot. Second place gets $2.125m while third collects $1.5m and last place is worth $120,000. The winning team earns $3m, split evenly among four, with $1.5m and $500,000.

The first LIV event took place in June at the Centurion Club, near London, and the second at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon. After Bedminster, the series moves to Boston, Chicago, Bangkok, Jeddah and finally Miami—at another Trump course.

Ernie Els, a four-time major winner and former world No 1, has dismissed LIV Golf as getting in the way of "real golf," adding that the series is meaningless without world ranking points.

"You can't have a 48-man tour playing no-cut golf and expect the world to take you seriously," he told Golf Digest on Wednesday.

Update 07/21/22, 4 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with a response from LIV Golf Series.