In March, a recently launched but already embattled golf league called LIV Golf announced its first tour. Its second stop in the U.S.: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club northwest of Portland. The North Plains club, a swanky oasis nestled between huge firs, features two 18-hole golf courses—one public, the other open only to members.
Pumpkin Ridge now has a few less of those members.
That’s because they object to hosting a tour financially backed by Saudi Arabia’s investment arm. The Saudi Arabian government has long faced accusations of human rights abuses—as well as allegations that it’s used investment in major sports as a way to distract from those abuses.
The LIV tour event at Pumpkin Ridge will be held June 30 through July 2.
Pumpkin Ridge is managed locally but owned by Escalante Golf, a Texas-based company started by three college fraternity brothers.
Escalante did not respond to WW’s repeated requests for comment. Another silent voice: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. While the tournament isn’t in Portland proper, it will likely draw thousands of spectators to a town just miles away. In late April, 11 mayors in Washington County signed a letter opposing the tournament there. Wheeler hasn’t said anything, and his office did not respond to WW’s requests for comment. Meanwhile, Pumpkin Ridge is seeing members depart. It’s not clear how many, but some former members estimate the number may be as high as 40.
In the past week, WW spoke to five former members of Pumpkin Ridge. All five tell WW they first heard about the tournament being hosted at Pumpkin Ridge from news reports.
Four quit the club within a month. WW asked three of them—Tom Etzel, the CEO of an events management company; Eamon McErlean, an executive at a software company; and Roland Carfagno, who owns Italian restaurant Justa Pasta—why they left.
Members’ answers have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What was your reaction to the news?
Tom Etzel: I was shocked, surprised and disappointed.
I reached out to Escalante, both to club management and corporate headquarters. I spoke to both the club and corporate headquarters. I was disappointed in their responses, and they seemed very calculated.
I left the club that same day. I’m one person, but I felt it was important and, obviously, I had had conversations with other members who shared some of the same beliefs. I hoped we could change their minds.
What’s the problem with LIV Golf playing at Pumpkin Ridge?
Eamon McErlean: I’m not thinking that the PGA is perfect, by any means. But what we do know about the Saudi Arabia wealth fund, when you start to pull back the layers a bit and see some of the human rights crises they’ve been associated with, it’s just not something I would want to be tied to in any way.
I emailed Escalante two, if not three, subsequent emails stating my frustration with three things: One, the decision itself. Two, how it was communicated. And three, how over the past few months the level of service had significantly deteriorated. Some of the basics, like literally no golf balls on the range, no towels available. There was one Saturday afternoon a little stack shack halfway through the round wasn’t just closed, it was locked up. These are all First World problems, I get it. But as a paying member, you expect a level of service.
I think it had something to do with the tournament coming, I do. Because I played once before I left, and you could see the entire clubhouse getting repainted. It was just a complete face-lift across the board.
Escalante executives came to Pumpkin Ridge to answer member questions. What was that like?
Roland Carfagno: There was a huge uproar right away. A lot of members were like, what’s going on? Everyone who I played with at Pumpkin left.
A couple of the people from Escalante Golf came up to meet with members, and it took me two minutes to realize they didn’t really care at all what members thought. They held an open house and were there for four hours. It was them talking first, and then we were allowed to ask questions. There were questions about whether they considered how the members felt about it, concerns about how poor the service had been recently, questions about how they came about this decision.
The gist of their message was: This was too good of an opportunity for them to pass up. We all assume there’s a big check behind this. They revealed nothing about money. I personally know six members beside myself who left. But nobody really knows for sure.