This week brought the stunning announcement that the protracted civil war within the golfing world was suddenly and unexpectedly coming to an end. Following months of legal action, banned players, and a fair share of mud-slinging, it seems that the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour, and upstart LIV Golf are now prepared to draw a line under all that has gone before and come together as a single commercial entity.
The Storm Before The Calm
This news will no doubt come as a huge surprise to all fans of the game, given the levels of disruption and animosity between the PGA and DP World Tour on one side, and LIV Golf on the other – problems which began before the official launch of the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund-backed project on 9th June 2022, and which have only escalated since.
The most headline-grabbing issue was, of course, the defection of a number of the highest-profile players in the game; Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith were just a few of those unable to resist the allure of 54 hole no-cut tournaments, team events, and cheques with a large number of zeroes on the end.
That perceived player-poaching affected both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour and triggered a succession of legal wrangles.
- 11th June 2022 – Reports suggest that the US Department of Justice is investigating the PGA Tour in relation to anti-competitive behaviour.
- August 2022 – LIV Golf and a number of players file an antitrust civil suit against the PGA Tour, followed by the PGA countersuing on the grounds that LIV Golf was encouraging players to break their contracts.
- February 2023 – Ian Poulter and others take legal action (and win) against the DP World Tour in relation to suspension from DP World Tour events.
The long-term benefits – or otherwise – of the new arrangement remain to be seen, but the merger does at least bring an immediate end to what would likely have become lengthy and costly battles in the courtroom.
What Does The New Deal Look Like?
Under the new arrangement, the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and LIV Golf will now fall under common ownership, forming a new “for-profit” entity. The sole initial investor in this as-yet-unnamed operation will be the PIF, who will also maintain the right of first refusal on any new investment opportunities in the future. Given this arrangement, suggestions that the PGA and DP World Tour have sold out to the vast riches of Saudi Arabia seem sure to follow, whilst, for those concerned about the alleged global sports-washing strategy of the oil-rich nation, this development will only add further fuel to the fire.
However, it should be noted that the PGA Tour appear to have maintained a degree of control under the new structure. Whilst PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rymayyan will serve as Chairman, existing PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan will take the position of CEO, and the PGA will appoint the majority of board members – handing the PGA Tour the advantage in any issues requiring a vote. Quite where the DP World Tour sits in the managerial structure remains a little unclear, but it has been stated that there may be a place on the board for DP members at some point in the future. Interestingly, there is no mention in this new arrangement of one of the most divisive figures in this saga: LIV CEO Greg Norman.
What Will the Future Hold?
For the remainder of 2023, little will change in terms of the golfing calendar, with all three tours set to continue with their existing schedules. However, it does seem reasonable to assume that 2024 may look significantly different, with a greater emphasis on the team golf model favoured by the PIF seeming a real possibility.
As is often the case with huge deals such as this, the instigators think it’s a tremendous idea. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan stated, “This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV – including the team golf concept – to create an organization that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.” Quite an about-turn from Monahan who in 2022 stated that, “We welcome good, healthy competition. The LIV Saudi Golf League is not that. It’s an irrational threat, one not concerned with the return on investment or true growth of the game.”
Despite what at first appears to be a bit part role in proceedings, DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley was equally effusive, stating, “We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also to have the opportunity to build on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA Tour,” and, “Together we will be stronger than ever and well positioned to continue to bring the game to all corners of the globe.”
But What Do the Players Think?
Sadly the only players to “lose out” as a result of this announcement are those to have stuck rigidly to their principles, turning down vast sums to remain with the PGA Tour; Tiger Woods allegedly refused a monstrous paycheck, Rory McIlroy became something of a poster boy for PGA principles, but there were many others.
Predictably, the tone of the quotes emerging from the players differed starkly between those who had signed up to the LIV Tour:
“Awesome day today.” – Phil Mickelson
Awesome day today 😊 https://t.co/qUwVJiydym
— Phil Mickelson (@PhilMickelson) June 6, 2023
And those who hadn’t:
“Tell me why Jay Monahan basically got a promotion to CEO of all golf in the world by going back on everything he said the past two years. The hypocrisy. Wish golf worked like that. I guess money always wins.” – Dylan Wu.
The attitude of Rory McIlroy meanwhile appears to be one of grudging acceptance, the Northern Irishman summing up his feelings with, “It’s hard for me to not sit up here and feel somewhat like a sacrificial lamb and feeling like I’ve put myself out there and this is what happens.” He went on, “Removing myself from the situation, I see how this is better for the game of golf, there’s no denying it.”
Whether the newly announced collaboration is good or bad for the long-term health of the sport of golf remains to be seen, but fans, pundits and players will be watching developments very closely.