Big paycheques lure the world’s best to Saudi Arabia

Rumours of big-money Professional Golf League have dominated the talk this week

Money makes the (golfing) world go round, and the evidence of that is there for all to see with the sort of field assembled this week for the second edition of the Saudi International in Saudi Arabia which concludes the European Tour’s desert swing through the Middle East.

The rights or wrongs of actually having a tour stop in the kingdom at all is a hot topic – and the same point will be made when horse racing’s Saudi Cup takes place next month, with leading Irish trainers among those chasing the $10 million pot of gold for the race winner – but, for sole traders likes professional golfers, it is in the schedule and among those to hot-tail it there are world number one Brooks Koepka, former world number one Dustin Johnson and a plethora of other American high-fliers lured by filthy lucre and using one of three “releases” allowed to them by the PGA Tour to play on other circuits.

Rory McIlroy too was wooed only to rebut overtures on moral grounds (casting an eye at the country’s human rights record and turning up his nose at a reputed $2.5 million appearance fee), although two other Irish Major champions, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell, have factored the tournament into their scheduling. The third Irishman in the field, Cormac Sharvin, didn’t get any financial inducements but will be glad to just get up-and-running in his rookie season on tour.

Lowry may have thought long and hard about adding the Saudi International onto his schedule but he is there and in the field and his initial observations of the course – “I like the look of it straightway” – would indicate his only concern is about getting from point A to point B in as few shots as possible on the golf course. For the first two rounds, he has been grouped with Koepka and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.


This is the fourth week on the road for Lowry, which started with a runner-up finish in Hong Kong (on the Asian Tour), a missed cut on his defence of the title in Abu Dhabi and then a solid tied-11th finish in Dubai. Whatever happens in Saudi Arabia, it will complete his early-season stint and, moving forward, his springtime and early-summer will be spent stateside on the PGA Tour where a different question of money is the current hot topic.

It concerns the unnamed sponsors behind the proposal of an elite 48-man Professional Golf League (with a start date apparently in 2022 or 2023) that would guarantee the “world’s best players” to compete in 18 events for $10 million purses with bonuses on top.

When asked of the proposal, Lowry – ranked 18th in the world – responded: “I genuinely don’t know anything about it. Obviously I’ve heard the rumblings about it, people talking about it . . . . I’m a European Tour and PGA Tour player. That’s what I am, very much a traditionalist. I don’t see new formats or anything like that being a way to go about golf.”

He added: “I’m very lucky to do what I do for a living and I love doing it. I’m very lucky to be able to provide for my family very well that way, and I think, you know, that’s the way I look at it. I don’t know, do we need something else? I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

Over in the US, the PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is clearly of a similar viewpoint. Monahan sent a letter to all PGA Tour players outlining the PGA Tour’s position and warned players are such new league would be in direct conflict with the PGA Tour.

Intriguingly, the rumour mill has it that Saudi money is behind that proposed golf league too!