Augusta National Golf Club Eyed by DOJ Antitrust Probe

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America’s trustbusters think one of the world’s most prestigious golf courses isn’t playing fair.

Augusta National Golf Club, host course for The Masters for nearly 90 years, has drawn regulatory scrutiny from the Department of Justice amid a larger probe into US Golf and the PGA Tour as players flee for the high-paying, highly controversial Saudi-backed LIV Tour, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. Escaping the agency’s ire may hardly be a gimme putt.

In the Rough

Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly on friendly terms with the US state department regarding oil. But when it comes to golf, the federal government is a little more amiable. As big-name players such as Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Dustin Johnson ditched the PGA for the promise of bigger paychecks on the upstart tour, the PGA faced possible extinction in a cash prize arms race it couldn’t possibly win. The PGA began leaning on bylaws that say it can deny players’ requests to play in non-PGA televised events, and doled out a handful of suspensions for players who defied the rules to play in LIV events.

The punishments were flagged as potentially anticompetitive behavior, kicking off an investigation the WSJ first reported this summer. Now, the scope of the investigation appears to be broader than originally thought and Augusta — an important and highly exclusive course that’s long been buddy-buddy with the PGA — now finds itself in a legal sand trap:

  • In a lawsuit filed first by LIV players now being driven by LIV itself, Augusta stands accused of siding with the PGA by threatening to disinvite LIV players from the Masters. Club chairman Fred Ridley is personally accused of telling players not to join LIV at last year’s tournament.
  • Ridley has also teamed up with the chairman of R&A, the group that oversees the British Open, to threaten retaliation against the Asian Tour after it signed a partnership with LIV. The US Golf Association, a separate governing body often aligned with the PGA, has also been roped into the probe.

Player Scramble: For now, LIV and PGA are still figuring out how to coexist. The former is waging a PR campaign to convince the Official World Golf Ranking to grant the circuit’s tournament players global leaderboard points — which would further enmesh it in the global golf ecosystem. Former PGA golfer and current LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman has compared LIV’s player snatch-up to creating “free agency” for golf. If only all this could be sorted out on the fairway rather than a courtroom.