Golf

LIV Golf-Augusta National feud heats up in latest round of legal filings

Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley speaks during his annual press conference held during Masters week.

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Even in the depths of winter, the hot golf furnace has remained warm thanks to numerous legal clashes. Recent court documents filed by the PGA Tour and LIV Golf show just how intertwined (or not!) the battle in professional golf’s top ranks has become.

According to court documents released Monday, LIV Golf’s lawyers have served subpoenas on six current or former PGA Tour policy board members as well as former commissioner Tim Finchem. Buried in a joint statement between LIV and these figureheads were allegations made by LIV against various members of Augusta National, which appears to be one of LIV’s new focuses. One of the initial requests included in each subpoena to these members was an overarching demand:

Please indicate “All communications between you and any member of Augusta National regarding a new tour, including but not limited to LIV Golf.”

Much of the allegations in the affidavit remain confidential, but ANGC members Condoleezza Rice – the former secretary of state – and Warren Stephens were listed by LIV as having “apparently tried to influence the DOJ (Department of Justice) not to investigate the (PGA) Tour .” Whether that’s true or not — the complaints flying back and forth are hotly contested by each side — the DOJ has launched an investigation into the PGA Tour for potential anti-competitive practices, as it has with both the USGA and Augusta National.

While many of the claims in the documents were redacted, LIV went on to characterize the Tour’s work as an “us or them” campaign, adding: “The threat of a change in relations with Augusta’s members was used as a stick to deter a. of the best golfers in the world from joining LIV.”

The lawsuit is an antitrust case in which LIV has accused the PGA Tour of organizing a “group boycott” with other governing bodies such as Augusta National, the DP World Tour, the PGA of America, the USGA and the R&A. In its initial complaint, LIV alleged that representatives from Augusta National launched an anti-LIV campaign that threatened to bar LIV players from future Masters tournaments if they joined the upstart league.

The PGA Tour’s political board directors also made their case in the joint statement, led by Mary Meeker, a venture capitalist and partner at Bond Capital. LIV’s theory that the Tour “sowed doubt” among top golfers that they would be banned “is completely baseless, as demonstrated by the fact that the Masters has allowed LIV golfers to compete in the 2023 Masters,” Meeker’s statement read. It was only a month ago that Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley announced that all players who had already qualified for the 2023 tournament would be invited to play.

Just because LIV has served subpoenas on these Tour-adjacent figureheads doesn’t mean they’ll receive all the documents they want. As part of the joint statement, LIV’s reduced its initial request for communications from the Augusta National membership of “approximately 300” to a narrower list of 21 people and the Masters Tournament Committee.

Meeker believes the list is still too broad and requests in the documents that the group be further trimmed to just 11 names. The 11 agreed to by both sides are Ridley, Will Jones, Casey Coffman, Steve Ethun, Buzzy Johnson, Taylor Glover, Pat Battle, Terry McGuirk, Brian Roberts, Kessel Stelling and Lee Styslinger. Four of them are ANGC employees and seven are members. Among the others on LIV’s electoral list: Rice, former chairman Billy Payne and new policy board director Jimmy Dunne.

LIV’s list is too broad, Meeker argues, because many members of the Masters Committee do not hold positions that have any relevance to the case. Many of them, she notes, deal with issues like Masters concessions, tee and hole locations, parking and traffic, etc. Meeker notes that much of the evidence LIV cites is because “there are a lot of people who don’t like LIV Golf, LIV’s Saudi sponsors and what they stand for, and that some of these individuals have chosen to share their personal opinions about LIV with professional golfers and others.”

So where does that leave us? Judge Susan van Keulen is expected to rule soon on which Augusta National members can be included in the discovery efforts via the subpoenas. And just because they’re included doesn’t mean the trial will be filled with communications documents. Augusta National and its members are famously tight-lipped about all operations involving the club.

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