NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — The controversial LIV Golf Invitational started Thursday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains, about 20 miles west of Portland.
It’s the Saudi Arabia-backed golf league’s first event in America, and about a dozen family members of 9/11 victims flew to Portland to protest the tour.
"To speak out against American golfers — who are getting in bed with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which our own FBI said facilitated the murder of our loved ones — it’s shameful, it’s disgraceful and it never should have been allowed to happen," said Brett Eagleson, whose father was killed in the 9/11 attacks.
LIV Golf is funded by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, offering huge amounts of money to fewer golfers across fewer tournaments.
Protesters say it’s a clear example of "sportswashing" — spending to deflect from the government’s reported human rights abuses.
Some of the world’s most famous golfers have accepted millions of dollars to compete with LIV Golf, creating a schism in the golf world, one that caused Sean Passananti to break down while protesting Thursday.
"Some of my greatest memories were playing golf with my dad," Passanati said, describing how the last time he saw his father before he died on 9/11 was on a golf course. "He loved bombing drives more than anything."
The 9/11 Justice group paid for an advertisement criticizing the tournament, which ran across all four Portland TV news stations Thursday, including KGW.
At a new conference before this week’s tournament, professional golfer Bryson DeChambeau sidestepped questions about the Saudi Arabian funding of LIV Golf.
"You know, we’re golfers, we're providing entertainment globally and will continue to do so as time goes on," DeChambeau said, providing a response that other LIV Golf competitors have echoed in recent weeks.
However, family members of 9/11 victims said comments like DeChambeau's are callous, ignorant and hurtful.
"I want to ask everyone who is considering to take this money to consider, what if it was your family, your loved one in that building," said Terrease Aiken, whose father died during the attacks.
The LIV Golf tour has marketed its events as innovating and reforming the sport of golf.
Juliette Scauso, whose father was one of the hundreds of firefighters who died on 9/11, said the tour’s existence shows a lack of accountability.
"After 9/11, this country and the American people swore to never forget. Well here we are nearly 21 years later with no justice, and the responsible parties are being allowed to operate on American soil with impunity," she said. "It's shameful, it is wrong, it is hurtful and we deserve justice."
The Pumpkin Ridge tournament lasts through Saturday.
KGW has also learned that EcoTrust, a nonprofit that hosted a LIV Golf draft party at its Portland event space Tuesday, has now apologized for its involvement.
"We will evaluate and change our policies for vetting and booking events," EcoTrust said. "We are a mission-driven organization, and we take our values very seriously."