Rory McIlroy, who is back at the Dubai Desert Classic for the first time since 2018, says the European Tour should allow players to compete in Saudi Arabia next week.
The Saudi International ceased to be part of the DP World Tour, formerly called the European Tour, and has become part of the Asian Tour.
Both the PGA Tour and European Tour have threatened not to release their members for the $5-million event due to Saudi Golf’s plans to start a rival Premier Golf League.
“I’ve always thought that rival golf tours are just going to make these tours better. I think competition is a good thing and businesses need competition for things to progress and move on,” said McIlroy, who chairs the 16-member Player Advisory Council on the PGA Tour.
“If guys go to Saudi and they are going to make 10% of their yearly income just by going and playing, then restricting them from doing that, punishing them, that creates resentment for the players and that creates a problem between the Tours.
“Look, everyone knows it’s a tricky one. But I certainly don’t blame anyone for going and doing it. At the end of the day, it’s our job and livelihood. If someone comes and offers you that sort of money, it’s hard to say no.”
Asked if the reactions of the PGA and the European Tour have created a division with the players, McIlroy said: “I think the best course of action for the Tours is to concentrate on what you’re doing.”
The Saudi event has drawn criticism for ‘sportswashing’ funded by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), with campaigners saying it is designed to distract from the country’s human rights record.
McIlroy said it was futile looking at where the money was coming from.
“You look at so many companies we use, like if you have used Uber, they are funded by the PIF,” he said.
“It’s hard to go anywhere and not have something or someone involved that people won’t agree with. Maybe some people don’t agree with the places that money comes from, but they are involved, a lot of the companies we use, a lot of the products we use.
“If you try to be moralistic about it and having principles, you’re not going to be able to live life at the end of the day. It’s not black and white. There’s a lot of grey area, and I’ve certainly thought about it and wrestled with it.
“If you try to take that hard line of a stance, you’re just going to end up not being able to do what you want to do.”
Switching his focus to this week’s event, McIlroy said he was delighted to return to a tournament where he gained his first professional win in 2009.
“This was one of the first events I played on the European Tour back in 2006, I think as a 16-year-old. The course hasn’t changed that much over the years,” he said. “The greens seem to get progressively smaller as we keep coming back.”
It’s just a golf tournament… let these very accomplished players go collect a few mill and stop worrying about the politics. Yes, I have seen the documentary “Inside Saudi Arabia”… and their religious beliefs and practices (punishments) go back a very long time. In my opinion they have nothing to do with chasing a ball in a field.