The LIV Golf rival circuit launched in 2022 and has lured a number of big-name players from the PGA Tour, including Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson. The PGA Commissioner called it “a historic day for the game”.
The PGA Tour has agreed to merge with its Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf.
The shock announcement comes after a year of unprecedented disruption in the men’s professional game following the launch of the LIV Golf circuit.
The two tours signed an agreement that would combine the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s commercial businesses and rights into a new, yet-to-be-named for-profit company. The agreement includes the DP World Tour, also known as the European PGA Tour.
The rival circuit launched in 2022 and has lured a number of big-name players from the PGA Tour, including Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
In a statement, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said: “After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love.
“This transformational partnership recognises the immeasurable strength of the PGA TOUR’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV – including the team golf concept – to create an organisation that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.”
As part of the deal, the sides are dropping all lawsuits against each other.
It is unclear what form the LIV Golf League would take in 2024.
In response to the news, Mickelson, who had led prominent players away from the PGA Tour to help form LIV, tweeted: “Awesome day today”.
‘A momentous day’
DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “This is a momentous day. We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also to have the opportunity to build on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA Tour.”
Reports first emerged of plans for a rival league to the PGA Tour as far back as 2019, but it was only in late 2021 that the proposal truly began to take shape. LIV Golf Investments was formed, with PIF – the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia – its majority shareholder.
An anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour was originally filed last August by 11 golfers before being taken over by LIV Golf. It was due to be heard in 2024.
IT’S A SENSATIONAL SPORTS TRUCE AND NOW IT WILL BE THE PGA HELPING THE SAUDIS LAUNDER THEIR REPUTATION
It’s a sensational sports truce with significance beyond sport – further asserting Saudi wealth, status and soft power.
When LIV Golf split the world of golf by launching a rebel series last year, the established PGA Tour of America’s moral outrage couldn’t have been clearer.
The PGA claimed the Saudi sovereign wealth fund was using the “sport of golf to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses”.
Hundreds of millions of pounds in signing on fees and prize money enticed stars, including former world No 1 Englishman Lee Westwood and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who were banished from the PGA for defecting.
Now it will be the PGA helping the Saudis launder their reputation through golf – announcing a merger by LIV that looks like a Saudi takeover.
In April, the DP World Tour won its legal battle against 12 LIV players who committed “serious breaches” of the Tour’s code of behaviour by playing in LIV Golf events without permission.
The subsequent increased fines and suspensions prompted Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson to resign their memberships and become ineligible for the Ryder Cup.
Those players could now return to the fold, with the tours pledging to establish a “fair and objective process” for players to re-apply for membership after the end of this season.
The decision to merge comes less than two weeks before the third major championship of the men’s golf season, the US Open.
PGA TOUR, DP World Tour and PIF announce newly formed commercial entity to unify golf
NEW YORK; RIYADH; PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida, June 6, 2023 – The PGA TOUR, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) today announced a landmark agreement to unify the game of golf, on a global basis. The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF’s 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.
In addition, PIF will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success. The new entity (name TBD) will implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway. With LIV Golf in the midst of its second, groundbreaking season, the PGA TOUR, DP World Tour and PIF will work together to best feature and grow team golf going forward.
Notably, today’s announcement will be followed by a mutually agreed end to all pending litigation between the participating parties. Further, the three organizations will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership with the PGA TOUR or the DP World Tour following the completion of the 2023 season and for determining fair criteria and terms of re-admission, consistent with each Tour’s policies.
“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA TOUR’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV – including the team golf concept – to create an organization that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans. Going forward, fans can be confident that we will, collectively, deliver on the promise we’ve always made – to promote competition of the best in professional golf and that we are committed to securing and driving the game’s future.
“We are pleased to move forward, in step with LIV and PIF’s world-class investing experience, and I applaud PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan for his vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach that is not just a solution to the rift in our game, but also a commitment to taking it to new heights. This will engender a new era in global golf, for the better.”
“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” said PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. “We are proud to partner with the PGA TOUR to leverage PIF’s unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide. We are committed to unifying, promoting and growing the game of golf around the world and offering the highest-quality product to the many millions of long-time fans globally, while cultivating new fans.
“There is no question that the LIV model has been positively transformative for golf. We believe there are opportunities for the game to evolve while also maintaining its storied history and tradition. This partnership represents the best opportunity to extend and increase the impact of golf for all. We look forward to collaborating with Jay and Keith to bring the best version of the game to communities around the world.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the Board of Directors of the new entity will oversee and direct all the new entity’s golf-related commercial operations, businesses and investments. The new entity will work to ensure a cohesive schedule of events that will be exciting for fans, sponsors and all stakeholders. PIF will initially be the exclusive investor in the new entity, alongside the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour. Going forward, PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital that may be invested in the new entity, including into the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and DP World Tour. The PGA TOUR will appoint a majority of the Board and hold a majority voting interest in the combined entity.
Separately, PGA TOUR Inc. will remain in place as a 501(c)(6) tax exempt organization and retains administrative oversight of events for those assets contributed by the PGA TOUR, including the sanctioning of events, the administration of the competition and rules, as well as all other “inside the ropes” responsibilities, with Jay Monahan as Commissioner and Ed Herlihy as PGA TOUR Policy Board Chairman. PIF’s Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will join the PGA TOUR Policy Board. The DP World Tour and LIV Golf will retain similar administrative oversight of events on their respective Tours.
The Board of Directors of the new commercial entity will include Al-Rumayyan as Chairman and Monahan as Chief Executive Officer; the new entity’s Board will also include an Executive Committee comprising Al-Rumayyan, Monahan, Herlihy and PGA TOUR Policy Board member Jimmy Dunne. The full Board will be announced at a later date, and it is anticipated that all three founding members will have representation.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the DP World Tour, said “This is a momentous day. We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also to have the opportunity to build on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA TOUR. Together we will be stronger than ever and well positioned to continue to bring the game to all corners of the globe. To partner in this new entity and influence the growth of the game for all our DP World Tour members is energizing and exciting.”
All parties will work in the months to come to finalize terms of the agreement, with details to be announced in due course.