PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The City of North Plains assumed the Fourth of July fireworks would return to Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club on the edge of town.
Then the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bought the course for the weekend.
North Plains has a population approaching 3,000 and is renowned for its summer Elephant Garlic Festival.
The mayor of the small city north of Hillsboro, Teri Lenahan, and 10 other Washington County mayors penned a letter to the owners of the course in April opposing the Saudi-backed golf tournament on moral grounds, citing other events sponsored by the government of Saudi Arabia — such as the dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, and the March public execution of 81 men mostly from country’s Shia Muslim minority.
They did not receive a response.
“A thousand people were there. It was huge. We had vendors and music. We presumed we would partner and do another Fourth of July celebration in 2022. At the time it sounded like a great idea, and people were on board. Then as time wore on, we got the news there might be a golf tournament that weekend,” Lenahan said. “Then we got the news that the fireworks for the community would be essentially axed because there was this golf tournament, so we would not be able to partner with Pumpkin Ridge for Fourth of July.”
In the letter to course owners of Texas-based company Escalante Golf, the mayors stated, “We oppose this event because it is being sponsored by a repressive government whose human rights abuses are documented. We refuse to support these abuses by complicitly allowing the Saudi-backed organization to play in our backyard. Human rights outbid all the rest.”
The tournament is the second stop on the LIV Golf Invitational Series. which is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund and tees off this weekend in England.
Phil Mickelson, who said helped write the operating agreement for the league, has led a group of professional golfers who are taking pay raises to join the eight-tournament tour. The Golf Channel reported Mickelson was set to receive around $200 million for playing.
Pumpkin Ridge nor Escalante responded to Pamplin Media calls and emails for comment about how much it will receive for hosting the tournament.
Washington County Commissioner Jerry Willey, a member of the club, said the tournament is being operated by third-party events company Par 5.
“Pumpkin Ridge has agreed to host it. At a point in time, they will turn the golf course over to organizers, and they will control all the activities through the tournament,” Willey said.
He added, “This is a private event at a corporate-owned golf course, but we do have a responsibility to make sure this is a safe event.”
Willey and Lenahan both said there could be a significant protest presence around the tournament.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Danny DiPietro said the organizers applied through the Washington County Land Use & Transportation Department and was granted a permit for traffic control.
“We will provide traffic control on perimeter streets from (Highway) 26 to the event location. We will also have uniformed deputies within the event for law enforcement presence,” DiPietro said.
He added, “Please remember that our goal is public safety. … Our role as a Sheriff’s Office during the golf tournament is to ensure public safety amongst the attendees and the neighboring community.”
In addition to Lenahan, mayors of Banks, Beaverton, Durham, Forest Grove, Hillsboro, King City, Sherwood, Tigard, Tualatin and Wilsonville also signed onto the letter in opposition.
“The tournament is an affront to anybody that has issues with human rights,” Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax said. “We were appalled that they would pick a spot in Washington County to host this. There is nothing that justifies enriching the coffers of Saudi Arabia.”
Oregon’s two U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, have also been highly critical of the Saudi government, saying its diplomats have helped Saudi Arabian citizens accused of crimes in the United States flee prosecution.
In 2016, in Southeast Portland, 15-year-old Fallon Smart was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by 20-year-old Saudi Arabian student Abdulahraman Noorah, who was arrested and then bailed out of jail by the Saudi consulate. Awaiting trial, he cut off his ankle monitor and escaped to Saudi Arabia, according to federal law enforcement officials.
The relationship between Washington and Riyadh is complicated but often cozy.
Saudi Arabia has bought billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment, including weapons and vehicles, over the years from the United States. In return, the United States is a major export market for Saudi Arabian oil.
While officials from the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have condemned Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses in recent years, the U.S. government’s public reaction to Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in neighboring Yemen — a much poorer country that has been wracked by civil war for close to a decade — has been muted. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Saudi Arabian-led coalition has received significant material and logistical support from the U.S. military and contractors for its operations in Yemen.
The United Nations has called Yemen “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” as half the country suffers from extreme hunger and two million children starve.
In November, President Joe Biden’s State Department and Congress approved $650 million worth of missiles to sell to Saudi Arabia. According to the Boston Globe, the sale include 280 missiles and 600 missile launchers produced by Raytheon, which has a manufacturing and assembly plant in Wilsonville under the name Collins Aerospace. In 2018, Saudi Arabia purchased $340 million in weapons from Raytheon.
On account of the Saudi-sponsored golf tournament coming to town, there will be no Independence Day fireworks in North Plains this year. Mayor Lenahan said the city has organized a parade and barbecue downtown.
“Please come to the garlic festival,” Lenahan added, referring to the festival set for Aug. 12-14 this year.