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    Event, Sport

    Saudi Arabia’s PIF and the PGA Tour Combine Forces

    A surprise unification which has left the golfing world in shock and disarray
    21 June, 2023

    Every once in a while, perhaps only once in a generation, the norm of a sport, or something similar, is altered to an extent that changes it forever. The professionalisation of Rugby Union, the introduction of Twenty20 cricket and the revival of the Modern Olympic Games as examples, can be looked back at as moments that have defined the cultures and trajectories of entire sporting landscapes.

    While not always apparent at the time, these moments may only become realised with the benefit of hindsight. However, when the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series launched in the summer of 2022, it felt like the world of golf had been transformed overnight.

    Presidents Cup

    Financially bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the LIV Tour provides pro golfers not only drastically inflated earning potential, but drastically inflated earning guarantees. From the off, LIV golf generated critics and sceptics in abundance. The human rights abuse allegations against Saudi Arabia, as well as accusations of sportswashing that have been unambiguously levelled against the state, have been among the chief reasons as to why there is so much opposition against the tour.

    However, on top of that, the introduction of LIV has seemingly ripped the heart out of the game of professional golf, changing the mood and relationships of players, fans, media and officials alike. While some pros, such as Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, have remained staunchly and overtly loyal to the USA’s PGA Tour (historically the predominant tour on the world stage along with Europe’s DP World Tour) other household names, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, have made the transition.

    Aaron Wise during the PGA Tour 2019

    Many argue that whereas the aforementioned examples of sporting change primarily represented progression and togetherness, the introduction of LIV Golf appears to have had the opposite effect, causing rifts, resentments and general confusion within the sport.

    In response, the PGA and DP World tours have acted forcefully, increasing prize pots, as well as enforcing tournament bans and fines for players. Litigation and lawsuits from both sides have been another resulting source of animosity and the Justice Department’s antitrust investigation into men’s professional golf represented a serious repercussion of the situation. For all who were involved, and for those who were keeping a close eye on proceedings, it appeared with certainty that a seemingly endless cycle of bitter back-and-forth lay ahead.

    However, at the beginning of this month, the golfing world was stunned by an ambush of news stating that the LIV, PGA and DP World tours were to merge, with all lawsuits dropped in the process. Moreover, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) governor, Yasir al-Rumuyyan, was announced as the PGA Tour’s new chairman.

    Pebble Beach Golf Links

    Needless to say, the game of men’s professional golf now exists in even more uncertainty than before, surrounded by so far unanswered questions about what the shock merger means for players, tournaments and governance of the game. The reasons for the sudden merger, and the PGA and DP World tours’ drastic reversal of position, are also largely unknown at this stage, resulting in investigations into the matter conducted by the United States Senate.

    Whatever happens from this point on, it’s hard not to consider the past 12 months as a truly seminal period in the world of golf and perhaps one of the most impactful and rapid transition phases in world sport.

    Blend Group
    Presidents Cup
    Aaron Wise during the PGA Tour 2019
    Pebble Beach Golf Links
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