After the mind-blowing news delivered on Tuesday about the PGA Tour/DP World Tour (aka the European Tour)/LIV Tour merger I can only wonder if Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, along with a huge percentage of PGA and DP World Tour members, aren’t just a teeny bit livid?
I am writing this at a time when very little information has been disclosed beyond the fact all parties have signed “a landmark agreement to unify the game of golf, on a global basis”. According to the press release: “The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF’s (Public Investment Fund) golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA TOUR and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game’s best players.”
Agreement to end all litigation between the parties is the one positive I can see just now. However, it’s hard not to take a jaundiced view of even this at the moment. LIV Golf is completely financed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia which is chaired by Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince, and the man widely believed to have ordered the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. American courts have already ruled on levels of disclosure required in the litigation, not bowing to the demands from LIV Golf for “sovereign immunity”. That ruling did not bode well for the Saudis if things were to proceed to court. And, if Phil Mickelson is to be believed, the PGA Tour also has its own share of “dirty secrets” which it would prefer to keep just that – secret.
So, over the last seven weeks a series of meetings has been taking place between Jay Monahan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour, and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, overseer of the PIF (picture at top) and Tuesday’s announcement of the merger is the result. The majority of players only found out minutes before the rest of the golf world and, like the rest of us, have now been informed as to the framework of the deal but very little else. Not that the new best friends don’t have lofty goals. According to Monahan they “are coming together to unify the game of golf”.
What an unholy mess! This new entity, which, at the time of writing, has yet to be given a name, will be wholly funded by PIF and has as a starting point the mutual aim of two of the protagonists wishing to avoid certain disclosures required by the courts. That’s some foundation for a sport that hitherto has been smugly superior about its inherent integrity. Al-Rumayyan, a golf nut who is also chairman of Newcastle United FC, will be chairman of the new company (no name yet) and Monahan will be the CEO.
Rory McIlroy, staunch supporter of and tireless worker for the PGA Tour admitted that at this point it was hard not to feel like “a sacrificial lamb”. However, acknowledging the futility of battling an opponent with limitless funds, he says he is resigned to the formation of this company. He says the Saudis will continue to pour money into the game and that this way the PGA Tour will be able to control how it is spent.
Really? Forget the labels. He who holds the purse strings always has all the power.The PGA Tour have sold out to the Saudis who have made no secret of their plans to shift their financial reliance away from their finite oil and gas reserves. They have been planning other massive income streams for the future and one of these is entitled Entertainment and Sport. And golf is only one subset of that. They no more care about the game than the man in the moon and a PGA Tour wishing to avoid court scrutiny and financially weakened by having to pump millions into their own tournaments to compete with the eye-watering sums available on the LIV Tour was ripe for the picking. Monahan has said nowhere else could this vast amount of finance have become available to them. All his salesmanship skills will be needed to explain his 180 degree turn from his previous disdain for the “dirty Saudi money” to presenting it now as a most wonderful opportunity.
And there you have it. Money trumps all. There’s smoke and mirrors all over the place and I weary of the oft-used phrase “growing the game.” Someone cleverer than me would be able to tell you what percentage of golfers world-wide actually play for a living. It’s a very small percentage indeed, a veritable tip of the iceberg, and the majority of this money will simply go to making already rich people even richer. And if I were a young sixteen year old lad, dreaming of being the next Tiger Woods, I soon will have nowhere on this planet to play professionally that isn’t funded (and therefore controlled) by the Saudis. Not a good idea in my book.Where does women’s professional golf fit into this global unity of the game? Jay Monahan made one throwaway remark that they would “look to contribute to the women’s game”. Crumbs from the master’s table – how lovely. I fully understand that the women who have fought tooth and nail for recognition in the commercial world of sport would welcome a huge financial boost but a big part of me would love it if they continued to plough their own furrow and keep a portfolio of sponsors and a degree of autonomy. Foolish, I know. Principles are great but money tends to win out.
This much-heralded merger will likely be of very little benefit to the amateur game – the “real” game that comprises the huge expanse of the rest of the golfing population iceberg. Don’t expect to see a proliferation of six-hole courses or pitch-and-putt venues for children any time soon. There’ll be no blanket roll out of golf lessons in schools, no hefty financial input into promoting better health through golf or working on inclusivity and divergence.
So far other governing bodies in world golf have cautiously sounded a note of welcome to the proposed merger. They will no doubt wait and see what transpires. However, I can foresee a time in the not-too-distant future when the next rift will be between the new Saudi-financed entity on the one hand and the R&A/USGA/Augusta National Golf Club on the other. The topics? One might well be the potential rolling back of the ball and suggested equipment changes; another the survival of the majors.
After all, if the winner of the Hey Diddle Diddle Open receives twice as much money as a winner of one of the current majors how soon will the lure of those titles and their history continue to have any meaning or pull for the next generation of players?
Of course, I’m being silly. Didn’t Monahan say just the other day, “On behalf of the game we’re coming together.”
So we’ll be fine….won’t we?