Mixed feelings in Boston about Saudi-backed golf tournament

Connect with us

BOLTON, Mass. — A town divided.

That appears to be the case in Bolton, Massachusetts, a small town of roughly 5,600 residents and the site of the LIV Golf Boston event over Labor Day weekend at The International Golf Club that could bring daily crowds in excess of that number.

Some in town are concerned about potential traffic jams from the event that runs from Friday through Sunday, wrapping up the day before Labor Day.

But the division is largely centered on LIV Golf, the entity that runs a new series that includes The International. LIV is financially backed by the government of Saudi Arabia.

What bothers some residents is that country’s reported human rights abuses, and the potential message it sends to outsiders that Bolton somehow condones those abuses.

“I was disappointed when I heard the tournament is coming here,” said Joe Myerson, a Bolton homeowner for nearly 40 years who has served on town boards and committees.

Bolton resident Joe Myerson. Photo by Henry Schwan/Telegram & Gazette

Some Bolton residents raised a total of $1,100 to pay for opposition messages during the event, said Patrick Mahoney, who is part of a group that doesn’t want the event in town. Mahoney put the number of people who donated the cash at more than 20.

Protesters will have their say in a designated area near a parking lot that is normally used for the Bolton Fair, said Bolton Town Administrator Don Lowe.

That lot is the only authorized parking area for tournament visitors, and shuttle buses will operate between the lot and The International.

Division in Bolton

Lowe acknowledged the division in town, where he has worked as town administrator for the past 13 years.

“There are differing opinions,” he said. “Some are strongly opposed, and some residents see it as beneficial, that it will help businesses, given the economy.”

Bolton Town Administrator Don Lowe. Photo by Henry Schwan/Telegram & Gazette

Bruce Slater, owner of Slater’s restaurant on Main Street, said he sees the tournament as an economic boost for businesses in Bolton and surrounding communities.

“This is a world-class event that is a great thing for the town,” said Slater, who traces his family’s roots in Bolton back to the 1950s.

When asked about the event’s connection to Saudi Arabia, Slater said The International is a private business doing business with another country.

“There are other private companies doing business with other countries that are equally as bad,” Slater said.

He continued: “There’s a lot of hypocrisy in this country. This event will bring people in. I’m hoping it doesn’t bring a negative light on the town.

“I love this town, and this tournament is a great thing.”

Several businesses on Main Street declined to comment because they didn’t want to be caught in the middle of a controversy.

Bruce Slater owns Slater’s on Main Street in Bolton. Photo by Rick Cinclair/Telegram & Gazette

Sue Loring, owner of the Quilted Crow, doesn’t think the tournament will bring much business to her fabric and quilt shop but there could be traffic backups outside her store on Main Street.

As for the tournament’s connection to Saudi Arabia, Loring said she didn’t know much about it, adding, “I don’t want to go there.”

In a prepared statement from The International, the club said it’s excited to bring “big-time” golf to the area.

“LIV Golf wanted to come to our area in its first year and we’re excited to be bringing big-time golf to our region. We’ve been tracking the fan experiences at each of LIV Golf’s previous tournaments and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, consistently showing that fans have been thrilled with the experience and eager to attend again in the future. Golf fans, sports fans and entire families are sure to have a blast.”

Escalante Golf, the Texas company that owns The International, did not respond to a Telegram & Gazette request for comment.

Crux of the division

The crux of the division is the financial backer of LIV Golf, a rival league to the established PGA Tour.

That backer is Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The fund is reportedly the majority shareholder in LIV Golf Investments, the entity that puts on the LIV tournaments.

Fencing along the road and a guest entrance across from a parking lot at The International for the upcoming LIV Golf Boston Invitational.

Protests have marked the LIV tournaments since the inaugural event held outside London in June.

Last month, 9/11 Families United protested at a LIV tournament at the Trump National Golf Course in New Jersey, where they expressed outrage about the Saudi-backed league and the country’s ties to the 9/11 attacks.

The Saudi regime is also linked to violent crackdowns on dissidents, including the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. A declassified U.S. government document indicated bin Salman ordered the murder.

Earlier this month, a Saudi court sentenced a mother to 34 years in jail after she tweeted messages in support of women’s rights.

Those developments concern Mahoney, who also spoke of a reported “Tiger Squad” that hunts down bin Salman’s opponents.

“I prefer the town do business with those that adhere more to basic, core American ideals, like freedom of expression,” Mahoney said. “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for us, we can’t forget the bad stuff that it’s doing.”

Can’t stop it

Both Mahoney and Myerson acknowledged there is nothing to stop The International and Escalante Golf from hosting the event because it’s a private business.

However, they see it as a case of “sports washing” by bin Salman and the Saudi regime, a term to describe investing in sports properties that generate public enthusiasm in order to divert attention from human rights abuses.

“[LIV] is trying to polish up the sinister image of bin Salman, showing him as a sports benefactor,” Myerson said.

Public safety and security

Keeping residents safe and secure during the three day event is Lowe’s focus.

Local police, state police and fire department details will be on the scene that will allow a maximum of 6,500 attendees daily. That includes golfers, volunteers and media, according to Lowe.

LIV Golf will pay for those details, plus a 10 percent administration fee.

Lowe made it clear that Bolton’s municipal government isn’t making a penny from the tournament, to dispel any notion the town is being bought off by LIV.

Done deal

Some opponents, including Mahoney, feel the event was a done deal before residents caught wind that it was happening.

Lowe said he got a courtesy call in March from Steve Brennan, general manager at The International, three hours before a news release from LIV that announced the tournament was potentially coming to Bolton.

Meetings involving the town, LIV and The International started in March, according to Lowe. The town’s Select Board didn’t take up the matter in open session until early June, and in another open session later that month, the board issued the necessary special permit to move the event forward.

All permits issued by the town were done through standard channels that all local businesses and residents must adhere to, Lowe said.

$1 million payment?

There’s also a matter of a LIV payment to local nonprofit organizations, and Lowe said he heard the total payment could reach $1 million.

Lancaster is interested in getting some of that money because the tournament’s parking lot is located in that town. That comes with security expenses to maintain traffic flow and public safety.

LIV Golf Bedminster

Phil Mickelson plays his shot from the first tee during the first round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Photo: Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

Lancaster Town Manager Kate Hodges said Mike Goggin, the tournament’s director, told her last week that several entities in Lancaster are going to get cash donations.

“(Goggin) said he would send me a list of those entities, and I haven’t received it,” Hodges said Thursday morning. “I’m holding my breath.”

A LIV spokesman stated in an email that LIV Golf will soon announce details of its charitable support for the local community.

LIV to Give, the entity’s charitable arm, announced in June a $100 million commitment to support programs centered on education, environmental sustainability, golf development and the well-being of communities.

As for how Lancaster feels about the tournament, Hodges pointed to two issues.

“Number one, there’s the issue with the sponsors of the tournament and where they receive funding,” he said. “That’s personal to folks here.”

The other issue is the designated protest area which is causing some nervousness in town. But residents are feeling much better on that point, Hodges said, because local police updated the Select Board this month on security plans.

Lancaster police meet weekly with state police to make sure the security and traffic plans are in place. Bolton police also meet weekly with state police, Lowe said.

Some to attend — others won’t

Lowe’s staff will attend the tournament because they have jobs to do. But Lowe won’t, because he said it could be a distraction for his staff.

“I serve no role there,” Lowe said.

Slater said he hopes he can find time in his busy schedule to watch some of the golfers in action.

If he can, he’ll bring his camera, because he would like to get a picture of superstar Phil Mickelson, a former PGA Tour headliner who is now affiliated with the LIV series. Mickelson reportedly signed a $200 million contract to join LIV.

“If I can sneak out and take a picture of Phil Mickelson, then I would be happy,” Slater said.

Happy is not a word to describe Myerson and Mahoney — they will not set foot at The International.

“It’s regrettable the town is being used to burnish bin Salman’s murderous regime. Bolton can’t do anything about it. Except, not to go,” Myerson said.

“If other places act like we act, then (the Saudi government) will not succeed in rebranding themselves,” Mahoney said of those in Bolton who oppose the tournament.

“We’re a small town, and we don’t want this here.”

Contact Henry Schwan at henry.schwan@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.