Premier Golf League organisers bullish about their chances
PGL is entirely separate from the controversial Saudi-backed Super Golf League
Rory McIlroy has been an outspoken critic of a potential Premier Golf League. Photograph: Darron Cummings/AP
Organisers of a proposed $250million breakaway golf circuit have pledged to “never stop” in their bid to install the Premier Golf League (PGL) at the top of the game’s pyramid.
And PGL chief executive Andy Gardiner is confident the likes of Rory McIlroy will be presented with a choice between the current tours and a new 18-event, Formula One-style season “without fear of reprisals”.
A rival Saudi-backed Super Golf League (SGL) dominated the build-up to the recent US PGA Championship, with 48-year-old Lee Westwood admitting it would be a “no-brainer” to sign a multi-million-pound contract at this stage of his career.
In contrast, McIlroy reiterated his opposition and labelled the proposals a “money grab” similar to football’s European Super League, while players were threatened with bans from established tours and potentially the Ryder Cup if they were to defect.
The PGL is entirely separate from the SGL and is trying to strike a collaborative tone, with each tournament comprising a fortnight-long “festival of golf” with women playing the first week.
There would be 12, four-man teams owned by a mix of global stars and business figures, with women eligible to play for the 13th team, which will be picked by fans. More than 800 juniors will also get to play in the Junior PGL.
“We think this is in the best interests of the game long-term, pure and simple,” Gardiner said.
“The world rankings recognise around 20 professional tours just on the men’s side and they generate around 500 events a year between them. That is a very robust pyramid but not all tours are equal obviously and I don’t think the pyramid of golf has ever been fully formed.
“I think if you put the PGL as the top of the pyramid in golf, a similar effect to the Premier League in football takes place where there is greater interest on a global basis, the profile of the sport rises, more eyeballs, more cash. Then it’s about how you distribute that through the pyramid.
“That’s the consultation we now want to have because the European Tour and PGA Tour can be part of this ownership structure, their members can be part of this. We are very happy to talk about a purse contribution that goes to support either or both.”
US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau has said he will be a follower, not a leader, when it comes to any breakaway circuit and Gardiner acknowledges he will need a significant number of top players to sign up for the project to succeed, starting in January 2023.
“They will all make their own decision but probably, when it comes to it, they’ll make a decision together,” he added. “I’m talking about eight or 10 out of the top 12, 15 guys because that’s what it would take to have this happen.
“Then you have collective strength in the way Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnie (Palmer) and others did back in 1968. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision for them to break away from the PGA of America to create the PGA Tour, which is of course the precedent for the PGL.
“It’s happened before and was very successful for the sport.”
While no talks have taken place with the PGA Tour, the PGL did come close to a deal with the European Tour — which would have meant co-sanctioned events eligible for world ranking points — before the two established circuits suddenly announced a “strategic alliance” last November.
Since then Gardiner believes he has become “probably one of the UK’s leading experts on competition law” in order to prepare for what could descend into a protracted legal battle over banning players and awarding ranking points.
“It’s not a concern,” Gardiner insisted. “I think sense will prevail. I think the nature of what we have to share will be sufficiently attractive, genuinely.
“If it’s not, the door has always been open and actually we’ve taken it off the hinge now. And we’re not putting it back. We’ll never stop.
“The next stage is the consultation so there is no leap (of faith) from the players. It’s just a little shuffle to the left or right if we get this right. It’s about free will and about choice without fear of reprisal.
“We went through establishing what the law says and how it applies to the players, we now know the position and that’s why we are reaching out to the community to say ‘There’s a nice way of doing this, a great way of doing it, which is to make sure everybody gets a fair share’.
“All we’ve ever wanted is the ability to compete for the services of these guys in a fair and effective manner.
“I think we will be able to provide the players with the peace of mind they require, hopefully in the next couple of months, with a deal which says ‘Right guys, you’ve now got the freedom to choose’.
“And you can choose another Tour that pays more, because that’s just the case, and you can also choose it on the basis that’s it in the best interests of the game long term and other parts of the game are involved in this.
“In other words there is no controversy, it’s not as difficult a decision as the guys back in ‘68 had to make.”