The headlines regarding professional golf have been dominated for the past year by LIV Golf, a newly-created competitor to the PGA TOUR. The news culminated with the recent announcement that the PGA TOUR, the DP World Tour, and the PIF (the source of LIV Golf’s finances) agreed to join forces. The merger is sure to shake things up on the professional level, but the larger question is how this will impact the golfing world at large. Here’s what you need to know:
On June 6, the PGA TOUR sent shockwaves through the golf world when it announced it had reached an agreement with the Public Investment Fund (PIF). While the deal has largely been characterized as a merger between the PGA TOUR and LIV Golf, the deal is actually with the PIF and intended to bring a new source of funds for Tour players, although there are sure to be impacts on both the PGA TOUR and LIV moving forward. The move was largely surprising to golf fans and professional golfers alike, mainly due to the hardline stance that the PGA TOUR took when the rival league LIV Golf started recruiting players last year. When big names like Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson accepted multi-million dollar paydays to join the upstart league, the Tour announced any player who defected to LIV would be forced to resign and not be allowed to play in Tour events (outside of majors). They were also critical of LIV being bankrolled by the PIF, the sovereign wealth fund for Saudi Arabia.
It’s unclear exactly what changes this merger will bring to the PGA TOUR, but one thing is almost certain: bigger purses. It’s been a sticking point for the players for years, from the top dogs to the up-and-comers, but this could help bring an end to that. We may also get to see all the top names competing together again outside of the majors, and perhaps adopting some of the concepts LIV introduced to the professional game could inject new interest in the sport.
While an agreement between the two leagues is in place, nothing has been finalized. LIV Golf announced that they still plan on playing the 2024 season and the PGA has not made a decision on the status of LIV players returning to the PGA TOUR. There were key figures from the PGA TOUR board involved in the agreement, but the board as a whole, which also consists of five players, has not yet voted on the deal. There’s also the matter of the government: Congress is investigating the deal for possible antitrust violations and is set to hold a hearing on July 11.
Since it’s inception, the main controversy surrounding LIV Golf has been regarding it’s funding source. The Saudi government has been accused of numerous counts of corruption and human rights violations, including sanctioning the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many have criticized this as one in a series of thinly-veiled attempts to purchase sports teams and organizations in order to improve or soften the image of Saudi Arabia, aka “sportswashing.”
Then there’s the fact that this change of heart from the PGA seemed to have come out of nowhere, catching both fans and players off guard. The PGA TOUR held nothing back in condemning the new rival last year, both from an ethical standpoint and for the “good of the game.” And while some players chose to take the guaranteed payday and make the jump to LIV, there were plenty that stood behind the Tour, which earned them a significant popularity boost among fans. So when the merger announcement came out, there was not just a sense of bewilderment due to the sudden change of course, but also a sense of betrayal on behalf of the players that fans had come to admire.
It’s not hard to understand why this topic has sparked outrage, but it also begs a follow-up question:
Let me start by answering this in the vaguest way possible: yes and no. If you’re a fan of the PGA TOUR, it’s understandable if this news impacts how you view the professional game. Maybe you’ll watch fewer events, or maybe you’ll stop watching entirely, and those are both reasonable reactions. Even if you don’t really follow the PGA TOUR specifically, there’s valid reason to be concerned about the direction professional sports are heading (FYI, golf isn’t the only sport where this is happening) and the global impact of sportswashing.
But there’s another side of you that I hope emerges from all this unscathed. Chances are that if you’re invested in this story, it’s not just because you’re a PGA TOUR enthusiast, but also because you are a golfer. And more than controversy swirling around the pro circuit, you love to play this game.
The game of golf is growing and evolving for the better, and it’s all because of you, the amateur golfer. You are the ones who invite your friends out to the course for the first time and get them hooked. You are the ones who put together rounds and tournaments month after month, not because of the opportunity to win some ridiculous amount of Saudi Arabian money, but because you love the competition and the people you share it with. You are the ones creating communities of golfers that are welcoming to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or background.
This game is no longer reserved for a select group of people. There are over 25 million people playing golf on over 11,000 public golf courses across the United States. Don’t let a decision made on behalf of a miniscule percentage of the golfing population ruin the love for the game that you and millions of others share.
If this news has you feeling frustrated or angry about the direction of golf, consider making an impact on the game by becoming an SCGA member. Your membership can help our mission to support amateur golf, provide programming for the next generation of golfers, and protect our courses in Southern California.
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