What does the LIV PGA merger mean for golf?

On June 6th, a major announcement shocked the golfing community — the PGA Tour and DP World Tour revealed they were merging with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Group. In their official statement, they stated:

“The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour & DP World Tour.”

What exactly does the LIV PGA merger mean, and why is it such a shock? 

Golf is united – for now

 Well, let’s look at it from the most positive perspective, in theory, and very much in theory right now — golf is once again united. When LIV Golf emerged in 2021 and lured players away from the PGA Tour with substantial financial offers, the golfing world became divided. Lawsuits were filed, and a war of words ensued between key figures from both sides. 

One of those figures was PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, who announced the merger alongside PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan on Tuesday. Interestingly, it was the same commissioner who, in an attempt to discredit LIV Golf a year ago, made controversial references to 9/11 and the affected families. Understandably, those families were outraged and felt used by the PGA Tour Commissioner when the news broke on Tuesday. This is one of many reasons why the announcement came as such a shock to so many. 

Why the LIV PGA merger is so shocking

To put it in relatable terms, it’s like those who spoke out against the Super League suddenly deciding to join it a year later. Or imagine Harry Potter jumping out of Hagrid’s arms in the emotional final scene, and casting spells at his once-fellow Hogwarts students. It’s a complete 180-degree turn and a significant betrayal of trust for many. Some PGA Tour players, who turned down substantial sums of money offered by LIV to remain loyal to the PGA Tour, found out about the merger in the same way the rest of the world did — online. They were taken aback, with no prior warning or explanation — as a tour who calls itself a ‘Player’s Tour’ it would seem their words and actions don’t align.

The exact nature of the merger is unclear

 When asked about pressing questions such as compensation for players who declined the money and the future of LIV Golf, the response was that these are details that need to be discussed. Therefore, it will take time to determine the exact implications of the LIV PGA merger. From Rory McIlroy’s perspective, who has been openly critical of LIV, he has been informed that LIV Golf is no more, and the money previously invested by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) will now be directed to the PGA Tour. In his mind, at least the funds are going to those who will utilise them best. 

On the other hand, Greg Norman, the controversial head of LIV Golf, believes LIV Golf is here to stay. This indicates that there is still much to be sorted out, including some of the relationships that have been broken due to the war of words. 

How much power will the PGA retain?

One aspect to watch closely is the level of control retained by the PGA Tour. In the deal, the PIF has become the exclusive investor in the PGA Tour and holds the right of first refusal for any new investments. What new sponsors will come in and what current sponsors will want out?  Currently, the PGA Tour still has a controlling number of seats on the board but, if money always prevails, it will be interesting to see how much say they retain over such matters.

There are concerns around sportswashing

Many consider this merger to be another triumph for the Saudis and have raised concerns about sportswashing once again. Golf is not the first, second, or even third sport to accept Saudi funding in an attempt to “grow the game.” Boxing has witnessed substantial bids to host fights in Saudi, as has the UFC. The F1 hosts a race there and the Saudi presence in football is growing, with prominent players opting to play in the Saudi League and Saudi money finding success in the biggest leagues in the world. Ultimately, whether it’s a sad lesson or simply reality, money seems to prevail in the end.

The partnership could take golf to the next level

That said, there are some positives that could come from this partnership. The golfing economy has been strong for a while, but there has always been a lingering question: where does golf go without its biggest star and true sports icon, Tiger Woods? When Tiger rose to fame and achieved the remarkable feat of the Tiger Slam, the sport experienced a tremendous boost. Young fans emerged, new sponsors joined, and purses grew significantly. However, athletes like Tiger only come around once in a generation, if we’re lucky, and due to injuries, he is on his way out of the game. With this new injection of funds, golf has everything it needs to take the game to the next level.

Traditionally, except for the majors (which aren’t run by the PGA Tour), it has been challenging to attract big events and top players to golf competitions around the world. Often, the sponsors of these events are American and prefer convenient locations for their guests and communities. However, with the new financial resources and LIV’s vision of expanding the game globally, perhaps this merger will finally help make golf a truly international sport. One of the fascinating aspects of golf lies in the diversity of courses and their unique challenges in different countries, climates, and continents. There is no better way to grow the game than by taking it to the markets of its biggest stars and allowing more people to witness the world’s best compete against each other.

The merger could see golf become more of a team sport

Golf has traditionally been an individual sport, aside from events like The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, where countries and regions compete against each other. These team events provide a unique atmosphere that players relish, often expressing the joy of being part of a team. LIV Golf introduced the concept of teams, and while the names might have been an acquired taste, the idea was intriguing. It appears that this feature will carry over to the newly formed golfing entity, which could provide a fascinating point of engagement for sponsors. Imagine Team Nike, Team TaylorMade, or Team Adidas — we could see a touch of Formula 1 in golf and a whole new way to commercialise the sport. 

With this merger, the golfing landscape is undoubtedly undergoing a significant transformation, and there will be a whole lot more to be resolved before the dust can settle and the game can move forward. What we know for sure though, is it’s certainly one to keep your eyes on.

Further Reading