Kane County officials endorsed the controversial LIV Golf Invitation Series this week as Sugar Grove’s Rich Harvest Farms will host one of the upstart organization’s eight events this September.
But not every county board member felt comfortable supporting the event despite the inherent local economic benefits of having an international spotlight on the community.
The LIV Golf series came on the scene early this year and continues to make headlines for scooping up some of the game’s biggest names away from the PGA Tour. The lure is $225 million, the largest prize pool in golf history.
But the series is financially backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, causing multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, to decry the new golf organization as a way to divert attention from the country’s documented history of human rights abuses.
The Kane County Board backed the tournament with an official proclamation this week.
“It’s really important to the Aurora area,” said county board member Dale Berman. “It’s going to flood our hotels, and it’s going to bring great economic benefit to the community. These are the kinds of things we need to support.”
County board Chair Corinne Pierog agreed, saying the LIV Golf series will “showcase Kane County at its very best.”
But the vote saw four abstentions, including that of longtime board member Mark Davoust.
In an interview, Davoust explained he would have voted “no” on moral grounds if not for the clear economic benefits to area businesses that the Rich Harvest tournament will bring.
“I have to balance my personal feelings with my responsibilities to the public,” Davoust said. “By abstaining, I felt that it was the best way I could express myself on this issue.”
Davoust said he, and many others on the county board, did not know there would be a proclamation supporting the event at the county board meeting. There was no public discussion about it before the vote. Davoust is a major golf fan and has been one of the key public officials leading the rejuvenation of the forest preserve district’s Settler’s Hill golf course.
He said he supports free market competition and even the idea that the PGA, as a golf monopoly, could improve the way it treats its member players. But supporting an organization founded on Saudi money troubles him at a moral level, he said.
“I cannot endorse LIV Golf in any way,” Davoust said. “The unfortunate reality is the funding comes from blood money. That’s inescapable. I love the sport. I love the opportunities this event represents for our community. But I cannot, in good conscience, put my name on a process that supports the LIV tours given the funding it has.”
Organizers expect up to 10,000 fans will attend the three-day event Sept. 16-18. The LIV Golf events feature a different format from traditional PGA events.
There will be a shotgun start for 48 players, meaning they will all begin play at the same time but on different holes throughout the course. The controversy has so far kept any major television networks from broadcasting the events, but it will stream live on YouTube.