It begins at Pumpkin Ridge

The first sign of protest for the LIV Series shows up

Cliff Pfenning
June 18, 2022

When the creators of the LIV Golf Series picked out courses to hold the events for the inaugural season, they certainly didn’t do much vetting of Portland and one of Oregon’s signature facilities - Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

With the Series being backed by Saudi Arabian money, and Portland having a long history of social activism that includes 100 straight days of protests in support of Black Lives Matter in 2020 - sparked by the death of George Floyd - putting an event in the metro area was, maybe, not the best choice in having coverage of the event just focus on golf.

The first sign of what might be coming for tournament organizers, golfers and the public showed up at the course Saturday in the form of signage that made reference to Saudi Arabia’s dismal record on human rights.

The key part of the sign was clear - “Don’t dismember Tiger Woods for not joining,” a reference to the CIA assessment that Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had, in 2018, ordered the assassination and then dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who worked as a columnist for The Washington Post among his many activities after fleeing his native land - Saudi Arabia - in 2017.

Pumpkin Ridge, in what was a stunning revelation earlier this year, appeared on the LIV Series schedule of eight events in March, due solely to the courses ownership - Escalante Golf, which purchased the public-private course in 2015. The seven-member board of directors had supported the purchase in 2015, but were furious when the LIV schedule was made public because they hadn’t been consulted for one moment.

Escalante just signed Pumpkin Ridge on to the schedule along with another course it owns - The International in Boston, due to the large fees it can charge the Saudis, who will happily pay any cost as it revamps its worldwide image. Tourism is the big goal for the Saudis, who aim to have tourist visits go from 400,000 per year, to one million.

The Pumpkin Ridge stop is scheduled for June 30-July 2.

The LIV Series also rented out the course for the Fourth of July, which area towns are further unhappy with as they’ve had fireworks displays there in the past. Not this year.

Two other stops on the tour schedule are on courses owned by former President Donal Trump.

Beyond the Saudi money, the LIV Series has caught the sports world’s attention due to the PGA Tour members who’ve bailed and had their Tour cards revoked. Some of the big guns, namely Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, are said to be making $100 million for their decision to join LIV. Ultimately, they’ll make more than twice what they’d make on the PGA Tour while expending only about a quarter of the effort.

The 18 other PGE Tour members who bailed for LIV so far and their Tour cards revoked, too, all stand to make more than they would in PGA events, while working half the time or less.

Money talks. No kidding.

The long-term cost of dismembership

“Membership has its privileges” was a famous slogan used in the ‘80s to promote the American Express card. Dismembership should have its cost, and Pumpkin Ridge is ripe to absorb that.

From now on, I’m always going to hear ‘dismembership’ in the back of my head whenever Pumpkin Ridge is a topic. And, that’s on Escalante Golf for its apparent basic belief that money is everything and Pumpkin Ridge is just a facility the creates revenue. People? Yes, the public and private courses at Pumpkin Ridge both have lots of people who golf there. They bring in lots of revenue.

Regardless of how or why the LIV Series event got to Portland, it’s an opportunity for the public to make a statement about human rights, and not just through protests that may happen. And, the biggest opportunity belongs to the Portland Public Schools.

The PIL Open, an annual fundraiser for PPS athletic programs, is set for Pumpkin Ridge on July 22. This should be immediately moved to another course, which would likely involve another date.

Moving the PIL Open from Pumpkin Ridge would cause a ton of headaches for district personnel, but it’s a way to show not only the public but its nearly 50,000 students what commitment means in support of human rights. PPS athletics definitely needs the $100,000 it aims to raise through its golf tournament, but not at the cost of telling the world we don’t care where it’s held at, we just need the money.

Pumpkin Ridge has been a great partner for the event eight previous times, but now that the public knows the actual owners of the course don’t seem to have any commitment to the club members, and definitely don’t have any commitment to promoting human rights, should PPS be involved with the course until ownership changes?

That answer should be “no.”

As long as Escalante Golf owns Pumpkin Ridge, and we all know now that money is the only thing Escalante Golf is interested in, all public events should be removed from that course, including the PIL Open.

I played in the first PIL Open in 2002 (because it was free to me), but have not been involved since. But, I’d be willing to pay the $300 to play this year if it’s moved. Moving the event might actually be a good thing as it would generate a ton of publicity for the reasoning behind the move, and then more people playing - therefore more revenue.

Yes, money talks, but how you get the money also talks.

Cliff Pfenning

Cliff is the publisher of, and has decades of experience in writing, photography, videography and graphic design. He's been a sportswriter in Oregon for more than three decades and has even taught sports broadcasting in Portland. He lives in North Portland in a house built in 1912 that has a backyard deck easily turned into a 'Top Golf' set-up for wiffle golf balls ... and cornhole.