The PGA Tour, a dominant force in men’s professional golf for generations, and LIV Golf, which debuted just last year and is backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in Saudi Arabia, have teamed up to form an industry powerhouse. It is expected to change the world golf world. Sports, executives announced on Tuesday.
Rival circuits have continued to clash in public over the past year, but a tentative agreement born out of secret negotiations has effectively blinded all of the world’s top players, agents and broadcasters. The deal will create a new company that will combine the prestige, television contracts and marketing power of the PGA Tour with Saudi funding.
The new company was formed so quickly that it doesn’t even have a name yet and is simply called “NewCo” in the contract documents. The tournament will be managed by the PGA Tour, but will receive significant funding from the Saudi government. public investment fund. The president of the fund, Yasir Al Rumayyan, will become chairman of the new company.
The deal has implications beyond sport as Saudi Arabia seeks to assert itself on the world stage as something other than one of the world’s largest oil producers. The Saudi money would boost the new organization’s influence, but it has a troubling link, including the country’s human rights record, its treatment of women and accusations that the organization was involved in the 2018 murder of prominent critic Jamal Khashoggi. accompanied by sexuality.
The deal won’t immediately result in a Saudi takeover of professional golf, but it will give the country’s top officials greater influence over the sport. It also represents Saudi Arabia’s growing ambitions in the sports sector, where it can influence the highest levels of the global game beyond corporate sponsorship of F1 races and ownership of the British football team. is moving to
“Everyone is shocked,” said Paul Azinger, 1993 PGA Champion and NBC Sports’ chief golf analyst. “The future of golf is very different from what it used to be.”
Since it began playing last year, the LIV has kept players off the PGA Tour with some of the richest contracts and prize money in the history of the sport. Until Tuesday morning, the PGA Tour was publicly uncompromising. LIV was a threat to gaming and an attractive way for Saudi Arabia to restore its reputation. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan also avoided mentioning LIV’s name in public.
But a series of Spring Meetings in London, Venice and San Francisco led to a framework agreement that surprised the golf industry with its timing and scope. Monaghan, who defended the decision as a sound business choice and said he accepted being accused of being a hypocrite, said he met with PGA Tour players in Toronto on Tuesday and said it was “fierce” and “certainly heated.” “I did,” he said.
But the deal proved correct in what could ultimately be an unsettling situation to mend the wounds of the sporting world. The PGA Tour board, which includes a handful of players such as Patrick Cantley and Rory McIlroy, still has to approve the deal, and the process could be rocky.
LIV Golf held its inaugural tournament just one year ago this week, and the PGA Tour has imposed suspensions on players competing in the tournament. But by the end of the year, even as the circuit was embroiled in an antitrust battle with the PGA Tour and the stars of the sport’s major competitions faced an uncertain future, LIV was the golf world’s They had some big names on their payroll. Its players include major tournament champions Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith.
As players were well aware, LIV’s 54-hole event (whose name derives from the Roman numerals in its number) is jarring, with blaring music and short-shorts-wearing golfers inadvertently crashing in the middle. I didn’t face the fear of being cut. The PGA Tour, on the other hand, defended the 72-hole event, which does not allow underperforming players to play until the weekend, as a rigorous athletic test that remains true to ancient athletic traditions.
The low-starch LIV concept generated a lot of headlines and gave the league even more attention. That’s because of his connection with former President Donald J. Trump, who hosted the LIV tournament and has emerged as one of the most enthusiastic boosters. But the league remained heavily reliant on big money from the wealthy, who had been warned that the rebel golf circuit would not bring any credible financial returns. A television deal with The CW network was a flop, and big corporate sponsorship was scarce.
Although closely related to the PGA Tour, the league has had some sporting success despite facing the risk of eventual exclusion of players from golf’s major tournaments, which are run by entities different from the PGA Tour. .
Last month, Koepka won the PGA Championship, sponsored by the PGA of America. Koepka, Mickelson and Patrick Reed were among the LIV players who performed particularly well at the Masters Tournament hosted by Augusta National Golf Club in early April.
But within weeks of the Masters, after a series of mutual offers and months of bravado, PGA Tour and Saudi officials met in secret to consider whether there was some way towards coexistence. was open. I don’t think it’s right or sustainable to have this kind of tension in our sport. The result was a deal that gave the Tour the upper hand, but poised to perpetuate Saudi Arabia’s influence over golf’s star rankings.
Monahan, the tour’s commissioner, will become chief executive officer of the new company, which will include an executive committee made up of tour supporters. But Al Rumayyan’s presence, and the promise that the wealth fund can play a pivotal role in the company’s eventual financing methods, means that Saudi Arabia will do much to shape the sport’s future. means you can.
In a memorandum to players on Tuesday, Monaghan insisted his tour’s history, traditions and competitive model were not only intact, but strengthened for the future.
It was hardly a unanimous view. PGA Tour player Mackenzie Hughes wryly tweeted, “Nothing makes me happier than learning through Twitter that we’re merging with the Tour that we said we’d never do.” And 9/11 Families United chairman Terry Strada, who blamed Saudi Arabia’s move to golf after the 2001 terrorist attacks because of fears about Saudi Arabia, said Monaghan and the tour were “just a pay rise for the Saudis. , billions of dollars were taken,” he said. Throw in dollars to cleanse Saudi Arabia’s reputation. ”
Both the Tour and the Wealth Fund had motivations to come to an agreement in addition to the prospect of ending a chaotic chapter marked by allegations of betrayal and greed.
The LIV has faced setbacks in its civil lawsuit against the PGA Tour, threatening to drag Al Rumayyan into testimony and force the wealth fund to produce potentially public documents. The tour is under the scrutiny of Justice Department antitrust investigators, who have been investigating in recent months whether the tour’s tactics against LIV have hurt the golf job market.
The lawsuit between Tour and LIV ends under the terms of the deal announced Tuesday. The outcome of the antitrust investigation was less clear, but experts said the new arrangement would not automatically exonerate the tour from potential legal troubles, but LIV’s lead cheerleader. The position as has evaporated.
The schedule and format of play for the world’s professional golfers are unlikely to change dramatically this year, and the LIV and PGA Tour are expected to hold events as scheduled. However, more significant changes may be made later. The main reason is that the new PGA Tour-managed company will decide whether and how to blend the LIV’s team-oriented format with the Tour’s more familiar offerings.
LIV players are believed to have a way to apply for a return to the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, where some players have been fined or suspended, but if they leave in the first place, they will have a residual penalty. may be charged. Two-time major tournament champion and LIV commissioner Greg Norman declined to be interviewed Tuesday through a spokesperson.
Whatever LIV’s brand and style, Tuesday’s announcement marks a singular milestone in Saudi Arabia’s quest to become a giant in global sport. The deal will allow the Saudis to move from a wealthy destroyer to a regime powerhouse, at least in golf.
Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that their ardent pursuit of investing in sports is fueled by political or public relations motives. Instead, they framed the investment as necessary to strengthen the finances of the resource-rich kingdom and enhance its position on the world stage.
Beyond its track record in golf, the wealth fund previously acquired English football powerhouse Newcastle United and companies closely associated with the fund are eyeing investments in cricket, tennis and esports are doing. And Saudi Arabia is poised to host major sporting events, from boxing matches to the pending bid for the 2030 World Cup.
But when Saudi Arabia entered golf last year, few thought Al Rumayyan would become a formal ally of Monaghan and other power brokers in golf so quickly.
PGA Tour player Adam Hadwin said Tuesday that “anyone who thinks logically knows that something is bound to happen.” It was unthinkable for the world’s best players to meet only at the Grand Slam, but it’s “amazing that the truce happened so quickly and in this way,” he suggested.
For much of the last year, LIV players have deflected questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights history and other issues that have helped turn the country’s golf boom into an international flashpoint. They used to say they were just golfers and entertainers.
By Tuesday, Monahan had tried to use the Saudi blemish to undermine the new league and its golfers.
“I want to ask any player who has left or is considering leaving: Have you ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour?” he said last year.
Monahan faced questions about his lucrative relationship with Riyadh on Tuesday when he declared that golf faction leaders “have realized that they are better together than fighting and apart”. were tour players.
“I have dedicated my life to being at the highest level in golf,” Tour player Hadwin said. “I’m not going to stop playing golf just because the organization I play for is affiliated with the Saudi government.”
Report contributors: Andrew Das, Kevin Draper, Lauren Hirsch, Eric Lipton, Victor Mother, Ahmed Al Omran and Bill Pennington.