The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund vehicle has secured title sponsorship rights to golf’s Saudi International, the controversial men’s event which has switched to the Asian Tour after previously being part of the European Tour.
The tournament, which will also be "powered by" Softbank Investment Advisers, will take place at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club between February 3 and 6.
It has been recently reported that the event, which first took place in 2019, is offering high-profile players lucrative fees – in addition to its increased prize money total of $5 million – to appear.
The USA’s PGA Tour has recently given conditional permission for a number of its participants to take part in the upcoming event, which clashes with the PGA Tour’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
So far, stars such as Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, and Phil Mickelson have all signed up to appear at the King Abdullah Economic City event.
The PIF has acted as a strategic advisor to the Saudi International for the last three editions, with the relationship now having been upgraded to title sponsorship.
The event first took place under the umbrella of the European Tour but has now switched to its Asian equivalent after receiving widespread criticism in recent years, with critics regularly suggesting it represents another example of attempted ‘sportswashing’ by the Saudi government.
PIF, which has gained fame in recent months for being the main actor in the Saudi-backed takeover of English top-tier soccer side Newcastle United, is also behind LIV Golf Investments, the newly-formed venture headed by Greg Norman that is set to fund an annual 10-event mini-series on the Asian Tour calendar in 2022.
The Asian Tour has said that “a key goal [of PIF] will be to accelerate the transformation of the Saudi International and be a leading example of golf events globally.”
Majed Al-Sorour, chief executive and deputy chairman of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “The commitment from our long-term partners at the PIF to take the title position on the event has provided further recognition that the event has reached a level of strategic importance for Saudi Arabia.”
Cho Minn Thant, the Asian Tour’s commissioner and chief executive, added: “The tournament will give our members an incredible opportunity to play with many of the game’s global stars and allow us to further increase our fan base.”
PGA Tour players requesting a release who have played at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am at least once in the past five years were granted one on the condition that they play there again at least once in the next two years, while players who have not played there in the past five years must do so at least twice in the next three years.