PGA Tour rejects Raytheon Byron Nelson sponsorship due to Saudi missile deals

The title sponsorship carousel continues on the PGA Tour.

On Wednesday, the Tour announced a new event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that will debut in July 2024 as an opposite-field event, but more change is coming.

Golfweek has learned that AT&T has asked out of its sponsorship of the AT&T Byron Nelson after this year.

A search for a replacement is well underway to assume the title of the Tour’s long-running Dallas event, which is being played this week at TPC Craig Ranch in the suburb of McKinney, Texas. According to multiple sources, the Tour had Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest aerospace and defense manufacturers in the world, ready to sign on the dotted line but Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan nixed the deal at the last minute because the company sells missiles to Saudi Arabia.

In August, the U.S. State Department approved weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, who were expected to buy 300 Raytheon Technologies-made MIM-104E Patriot missiles for more than $3 billion.

Much of the public outrage over the launch of LIV Golf, the upstart league which has signed several prominent Tour pros and is playing 14 events this year many of them in the U.S., has been that it is almost exclusively funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The wealth fund, organized in 1971 as a means for the Saudi Arabian government to invest in various projects and companies, has been estimated to be worth over $650 billion.

The Saudi involvement had led to accusations of “sportswashing,” a term used to describe the use of games and athletes to cleanse an image and launder the reputation of a country while cloaking repression and authoritarian rule. For the Tour to knowingly jump into bed with Raytheon given their business dealings with the Saudis would have left the Tour open to a public relations hit.

A general view of the 18th green during the second round of the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

“The optics were not good,” said one tournament director who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I give Jay credit for stepping in and making the right call.”

When asked last week at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte to comment on his role in the title sponsorship search and squashing a deal, Monahan said that the Tour doesn’t comment on potential sponsors.

“That would be a no comment,” he said.

A call to AT&T Byron Nelson tournament director Jon Drago was not returned.

AT&T has been a major backer of golf in the U.S., currently sponsoring the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Masters and Jordan Spieth. AT&T became the Nelson’s title sponsor in 2015, replacing printer-maker HP, at which time it gave up its title sponsorship of the AT&T National at Congressional. Randall Stephenson was AT&T chairman and CEO at the time and also an independent director on the Tour’s policy board, but Stephenson stepped down with the company in 2021.

If a new sponsor comes on board for next year, it will mark the tournament’s sixth title since 2000 to share the marquee with Nelson, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and local legend.

Since 1968, the tournament, which is operated by the Salesmanship Club, has raised $172.5 million for Momentous Institute, making it the most financially successful charity on the Tour.