What’s going on?
The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have announced a shock merger with the LIV Golf Series, run by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.
But I thought they hated each other?
It did seem that way. The PGA Tour chief executive, Jay Monahan, talked last summer about knowing people who lost loved ones on 9/11, then wondered aloud on national television whether LIV golfers had ever had to apologise for being a member of the PGA Tour. Now he refers to the Saudi’s PIF as “world-class investing” and has applauded the governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, for his “vision”.
What changed since then?
Money talks, essentially. The PIF, a sovereign wealth fund controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was putting a strain on the PGA Tour to compete with their almost unlimited finances. Monahan said the deal was “ultimately to take the competitor off of the board, to have them exist as a partner, not an owner”. He said: “I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite. But circumstances do change.”
So the Saudis own the golf tours now?
The PGA Tour still owns a majority on the board, but PIF will be the exclusive investor of the tour, Al-Rumayyan will join the PGA Tour policy board and be chairman of the board of directors of the new commercial entity, yet to be named. Most of all, PIF has gained legitimitacy within the golfing system. While LIV Golf was seen as a rebel tour on the outside, the PGA Tour is at the heart and soul of elite golf and represents a seat at the top table.
What is this PIF and what are they to the Saudi royal family?
The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, with total estimated assets of €580 billion. In sport, they most notably own Newcastle United in the Premier League, as well as LIV. The crown prince has made the fund a cornerstone of his economic growth plan, a blueprint to wean Saudi Arabia off its dependency on petrowealth and expand its economy.
Wasn’t Rory McIlroy very against LIV series?
He was. He had previously said LIV defectors “took the easy way out” and were “duplicitous”. He said he “hated” what it was doing to the game of golf. When interviewed yesterday, McIlroy said: “I’ve come to terms with it. I’ve resigned myself to ... this is what’s going to happen. It’s very hard to keep up with people who have more money than anyone else.”
Why do people have an issue with the money source anyway?
Many people believe that Saudi Arabia is “sportswashing”, using sport to improve reputations tarnished by wrongdoing. Indeed, reacting to the news, Amnesty International said: “Away from the glamour of golf courses, there’s mounting repression in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights activists arrested, a spate of unfair trials, and with the death penalty widely used, including as a tool of political repression.”
Expect the fallout to continue for quite a while. The PGA Tour players had a “heated” meeting about the deal, which they were not consulted about and some players called for a new CEO. It is also possible the US justice department could review the proposed merger and decide they would sue to block it.
On the golf front, it is unclear whether the LIV series will cease to exist or be amalgamated into the PGA Tour schedule for 2024, released next month. Golfers who defected from the PGA Tour, such as Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka, will be given the chance to reapply for PGA Tour membership next year.