First impressions of LIV Golf show there is a market for the Saudi Arabia-backed series

NORTH PLAINS, Oregon – First impressions go a long way. After spending three days at the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, one thing is clear: there is a market for this entry-level circuit.

It just depends on what you want to get out of a golf tournament.

If you are a golf fan who loves the game for its history and competition, these events are not for you. But if you’re a general sports fan who likes festivals and marching bands, you might be interested.

When you walk through the front gates, you immediately see the selling points of the series on signs along the trail: 48 players, 12 teams, 54 holes, no cuts, shotgun starts. Day and night of a normal professional golf tournament, which is exactly what LIV and its players want.

Workers rushed to build structures in the two days leading up to the game’s start, with parts of the fan village yet to be built, less than 24 hours before Thursday’s start at 1:15 PM local time. By the time the gates opened to fans at 10 a.m., they could see what the Public Investment Fund — Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund that backs LIV Golf — is capable of.

Just a few steps further to the left and you’ll see the fan village, full of food and drinks ($5 for beer, $10 for wine and cocktails and $15 meals, so if you just want a little snack, good luck), a children’s zone and golf activities ranging from putting and chipping challenges to miniature golf and even a performance center filled with multiple digital battlefields and, for some reason, racing video games.

Performers on unicycles and bicycles with juggling equipment rode the track as they played. “Alcohol monitors” patrol in bright yellow shirts to make sure no fans are overloaded.

You almost forget you are at a golf tournament.

Despite the controversy surrounding LIV Golf over the source of funding for an oppressive regime linked to terrorism and human rights abuses, the fans don’t seem to care† They enjoy the activities outside of golf, but more than that, they just want to see the pros. LIV may not realize it all, but coming to a region that loves golf and is hungry for tournaments was smart.

Same with their ticket discounts. Military and active duty veterans get free entry at LIV events, same with kids 15 and under with a ticketed adult. The series also offers a 25 percent discount for students, educators, medical professionals and first responders. Those who oppose the event say it pays off not to worry about making a profit and they admit it, while optimists argue that it should happen at other events. Both can be true.

And as for the players, they seem justifiably happy to be here this week – a thriving bank account and at least $120,000 for finishing in last place over three days of work can do that. LIV pays the road not only for the players, but also for their caddies. Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never seen a LIV event. It’s like being in this bubble where everything seems too good to be true.

The fewer fans and fewer players create an interesting atmosphere on the ground, and the players eat it up. At the range after Wednesday’s pro-am, Phil Mickelson joked to Matthew Wolff how nice it is not to have to behave like a bobblehead every hole. Instead of four amateurs per group and one player, the LIV format is two players and two amateurs and closed to fans. Another subtle change to normal touring life that players enjoy.

With the rosters and real names of the teams changing between events, it’s still impossible to buy in on that aspect (don’t tell that to the dozens of fans rocking Mickelson’s Hy Flyers hats). Most fans couldn’t name more than four of the 12 teams on Thursday, let alone a full roster. That said, the series will expand to 14 events and renamed the LIV Golf League in 2023and is expected to announce a new player as soon as this weekend.

Love it or hate it, LIV Golf seems to be here for the long haul.

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