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Upcoming Pumpkin Ridge golf tournament draws criticism over Saudi ties

Local elected officials have expressed concerns about an upcoming private tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club outside of North Plains.

Jerry Willey, commissioner for Washington County’s District 4, which includes Banks and Gales Creek, said there are myriad concerns about the professional golf tournament, including how North Plains residents will be impacted by a likely influx of tens of thousands of people on the Fourth of July weekend.

Those people would include the golfers, their families and ensuing entourages, vendors, and fans of the sport, many of whom travel around the country to witness golf’s best players in action, as well as any protestors the event draws.

The tournament is one of four being held in the U.S. under the moniker LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is led by World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. 

Observers of the Saudi finance arm, including politicians, human rights groups, news outlets, and observers of professional golf, say Saudi Arabia is using golf to distract from the country’s myriad human rights abuses and the removal of its own citizens from the U.S. who are charged with significant crimes and accused of violent, deadly acts in Oregon and other states.

Willey told the Banks City Council in April that the LIV Golf Pumpkin Ridge tournament is a private-sector affair and it is “creating some issues” but he is working with the golf course’s owners and Washington County Sheriff’s Office to mitigate concerns regarding the large volume of traffic expected near North Plains, which holds fewer than 3,000 residents.

Willey told the Banks City Council that there are those in the public adamantly against a Saudi Arabia-backed tournament taking place at Pumpkin Ridge — or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter — and whether or not someone agrees “with the philosophical purpose of this, well, that’s different.”

“Certainly, (Forest Grove) Mayor (Pete) Truax has weighed in on that with me but from the standpoint of public safety, we just have to make sure that they do it right,” Willey said. “That’s what our focus will be.”    

He said that local officials don’t know how many people are expected at the Pumpkin Ridge tournament but that the golfers themselves likely won’t be flying commercial and would instead be arriving in Washington County in private jets.

“And where do they land them? Hillsboro (Airport),” Willey said. “Have they talked to the Port of Portland? No, they kind of forgot that. So, that’s the kind of information we’re trying to work with them (about). They’ve been very accepting (of our concerns) and I will try and meet with them every two or three weeks … to make sure we don’t have any hiccups with this.” 

Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal recently reported that individual Pumpkin Ridge golf club and advisory board members, many of whom are Washington County residents, are upset with the “ham-handed announcement” of the July 1-3 event.

On April 13, as a guest on John Canzano’s Bald Faced Truth podcast, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said the LIV Golf Invitational Series stop near North Plains — Pumpkin Ridge is considered one of the top golf courses in the world — is right out of every autocrat’s playbook in hopes of using athletics to normalize their abuses. 

“I don’t think it’s right to be silent whenever Saudi Arabia tries to cleanse its blood-stained hands in the fight for U.S. justice, particularly when we’re still dealing with the hit-and-run death of (then 15-year-old) Fallon Smart close by to our neighborhood … about 20 miles from where the tournament is being held.”   

Smart’s story, which appeared on 60 Minutes on December 13, 2020, details how on August 20, 2016, 20-year-old Saudi national Abdulahraman Sameer Noorah, reportedly driving a gold Lexus, struck and killed Smart, who was walking in a crosswalk at SE Hawthorne Blvd. SE 42nd Ave. 

KOIN 6 news later reported Saudi Arabia posted Noorah’s $100,000 bail on September 9, 2016, but that in June 2017 he fled the U.S. and vanished into his home country after cutting off his Multnomah County Circuit Court-ordered ankle-monitoring bracelet.

“We have been able to document the Saudi government helped Saudi citizens charged with serious, violent crimes flee the United States,” Wyden said. “We’ve seen it in connection with the death of Fallon Smart on (SE Portland’s) Hawthorne Boulevard, (and) whoever is calling the shots for this Saudi-affiliated tournament on U.S. soil needs to take responsibility for how they’re effectively helping to cleanse the stains of the Saudi regime.

“At the end of the day, it is important to note this is a private event, but my message to Oregonians is this — change hardly ever starts in some government building,” Wyden continued. “It’s always grass-roots up … I would urge any Oregonians who feel that allowing the Saudis to do this in our state is wrong to speak up and (continue) to speak up.”

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Pumpkin Ridge is owned by Texas-based venture capital group Escalante Golf, owner of several U.S. golf-related properties, which was founded in 1991 when Washington County residents purchases the 350-acre property and later brought in a Japanese investor to finance the golf club, which opened in 1992..

A 1992 membership to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club cost $37,500 per person. In 2022, individuals can choose to pay $40,000 for a membership that allows members to receive 50 percent back if they leave the club or a pay non-refundable $25,000 membership fee. Both options do not include the $340 in monthly dues required of each member.

The Banks Post reached out to Escalante Golf, Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, and The Greg Norman Company to comment for this story but did not receive responses.

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