Opinion: The PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger isn’t the problem. Golf is

An aerial view of the Los Angeles Country Club.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

The recent merger of the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf ended a long battle between the two, typically framed as a struggle between pure, upright American values and brute economic, political and even murderous force. Many associated LIV backers with 9/11 and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The overwhelming financial might of the billionaires backing LIV ultimately resulted in an offer the PGA Tour leadership apparently couldn’t refuse. But while many are sickened by the effort to “sportswash” Saudi bank accounts, this foreign incursion is hardly the beginning of the sport’s outrages.

For the record:

6:56 p.m. June 13, 2023An earlier headline incorrectly identified the organization merging with LIV. It is the PGA Tour, not the PGA.

Golf courses have historically been places of exclusion. Segregated golf courses flourished in the South through the 1950s, and some private clubs continued to exclude women, people of color and religious minorities until much more recently.

Golf courses are also an environmental blight across the country. They treat their grounds with tons of harmful pesticides and fertilizers to maintain lawns manicured by massive, pollution-spewing mowers. Vast quantities of water help carry the chemicals into aquifers and wetlands.


Leaders of the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf have been locked in a fight over the future of golf. On Tuesday, they announced a shocking merger.

June 6, 2023

Communities starved for green space and affordable housing look on as these carefully tended acres are sequestered for use only by those who can afford it. Both public and private golf courses impose significant costs on the places where they operate, costs that are almost never absorbed entirely by the players.

Golf courses rarely pay their fair share in taxes either. Many enjoy special tax exemptions that allow them to pay a small fraction of the proportionate burden borne by neighboring properties, particularly in California.

The Los Angeles Country Club, which will host the U.S. Open starting Thursday, is an egregious example. It is a beneficiary of state constitutional provisions that limit golf course property taxes on top of the breaks conferred by California’s notorious Proposition 13. Its roughly 300 acres in the midst of some of the area’s most expensive real estate is assessed for tax purposes at around $18 million. That’s the case even though the area’s median home price is $2 million.

If the club were instead occupied by hundreds of homes, they would easily be worth 30 times the assessed value. Even if they never set foot on the course, Southern California residents are effectively underwriting its continued operations.

That’s only the beginning of the disproportionate public investment in the sport. Los Angeles County operates no fewer than 20 public golf courses, the nation’s largest such system. California’s public golf courses occupy enough land to build 375,000 homes at moderate density, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In 2022, an Assembly committee killed a bill that would have made it slightly easier to develop housing on some of that vast acreage.


A golf course isn’t necessarily the best place to build homes, but the state’s housing shortage is so severe that all options should be on the table.

April 22, 2022

Millions of Americans who enjoy watching and playing the sport have the right to do so. But the truth is that all Americans are paying the price for the continued operation of golf courses across the country. Many of them probably would not freely choose to underwrite the degradation of the environment, dedicate millions of acres of valuable land to a very narrow and exclusive use, or subsidize that use with huge tax breaks. Do those Americans get a choice?

The LIV-PGA Tour merger suggests golf is big business. So why are we subsidizing it? Let golf courses absorb the true costs they impose on communities. If municipalities want to continue to make public courses available at an affordable price to people of lower incomes, they should at least tax the private courses at equitable rates to help make that possible.

Communities generally do not subsidize polo, for example, which might explain its near extinction in the United States. Perhaps golf has more widespread support, interest and staying power than polo. The LIV-PGA Tour mega-merger suggests that, at least for the time being, it does — and that there’s still big money in Big Golf. If that’s the case, it’s high time American taxpayers stop subsidizing it.

Ray Brescia is a professor of law at Albany Law School. This is adapted from an article in the Ohio State Law Journal, Course Correction: Abolition, Grand Strategy, and the Case Against Golf.”