Three former members of Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club explain why they quit after Saudi-backed tournament
In March, a recently launched but already beleaguered golf league called LIV Golf announced its first tour. His second stop in the United States: the Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club northwest of Portland. The North Plains Club, a chic oasis nestled between towering fir trees, offers two 18-hole golf courses, one public, the other open to members only.
Pumpkin Ridge now has slightly fewer of these members.
This is because they oppose the organization of a tour financially supported by the investment arm of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has long faced accusations of human rights abuses, as well as allegations that it used investments in major sports to distract from those abuses.
The LIV Tour at Pumpkin Ridge will take place from June 30 to July 2.
Pumpkin Ridge is locally run but owned by Escalante Golf, a Texas-based company started by three college fraternity brothers.
Escalante did not respond to WWrepeated requests for comments. Another silent voice: Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. Although the tournament won’t be held in Portland proper, it will likely draw thousands of spectators to a town a few miles away. In late April, 11 Washington County mayors signed a letter opposing the tournament. Wheeler said nothing and his office did not respond to WW‘s requests for comments. Meanwhile, Pumpkin Ridge sees members leaving. It’s unclear how many, but some former members believe the number could be as high as 40.
Last week, WW spoke to five former members of Pumpkin Ridge. All five tell WW they first heard about the tournament held at Pumpkin Ridge from news reports.
Four left the club in a month. WW asked three of them: Tom Etzel, CEO of an event management company; Eamon McErlean, executive at a software company; and Roland Carfagno, owner of the Italian restaurant Justa Pasta, why they left.
Member responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
What was your reaction to the news?
Tom Etzel: I was shocked, surprised and disappointed.
I contacted Escalante, both club management and head office. I spoke to both the club and the head office. I was disappointed with their answers, and they seemed very calculated.
I left the club the same day. I’m a person, but I felt it was important, and obviously I had conversations with other members who shared some of the same beliefs. I was hoping we could get them to change their minds.
What’s wrong with LIV Golf playing at Pumpkin Ridge?
Eamon McErlean: I don’t think the PGA is perfect, far from it. But what we know about the Saudi wealth fund, when you start to peel back the layers a bit and see some of the human rights crises that they’ve been associated with, that’s just not something I would want to be bound in any way.
I sent Escalante two, if not three, subsequent emails indicating my frustration with three things: first, the decision itself. Second, how it was communicated. And third, how over the last few months the level of service had deteriorated significantly. Some of the basics like literally no golf balls on the beach, no towels available. There was a Saturday afternoon, a small pile shack midway through was not only closed, it was locked. These are all First World problems, I understand. But as a paying member you expect a level of service.
I think it had something to do with the upcoming tournament, I think so. Because I played once before I left, and you could see the whole clubhouse being painted. It was just a complete facelift on all levels.
Escalante leaders came to Pumpkin Ridge to answer members’ questions. How was it?
Roland Carfagno: Immediately there was a huge uproar. A lot of the members were like, what’s going on? Everyone I played Pumpkin with is gone.
A few people from Escalante Golf came to meet with members, and it took me two minutes to realize that they didn’t care what the members thought at all. They held an open house and were there for four hours. They were the ones who spoke first, and then we were allowed to ask questions. We wondered if they took into account what members thought about it, concerns about poor service recently, questions about how they made this decision.
The gist of their message was: This was too good an opportunity to pass up. We all assume there’s a fat check behind it all. They didn’t reveal anything about the money. I personally know six members next to me who left. But no one really knows for sure.