On June 6th golf made the world news headlines. After two years of open PR warfare between the PGA Tour establishment and anything LIV Golf, the PGA TOUR, the DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia, owners of LIV, announced they were intending to form a new commercial entity to unify golf. The reaction of many of the PGA tour players was shock and stunned surprise.

Defending the tour

For years these players had remained staunchly loyal to the PGA Tour and echoed the tour’s aggressive stance on the PIF’s competitive golf brand – LIV Golf. They had resisted LIV’s lucrative life-changing offers to join the team-golf format. Some had moral objections to the source of LIV’s finances. Some even went public with comments positioning LIV, Greg Norman (LIV CEO) and their Saudi PIF investors as damaging to the future of the PGA Tour, and thereby, professional men’s golf.

Player relationships became strained as LIV players were accused of lining their pockets with Saudi Riyals. Once golfing teammates feel-out and the LIV pros got the condemnation of many PGA players, pundits and golf purists, including a scathing Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour Commissioner. Key LIV players hit back with lawsuits claiming the PGA Tour was using monopoly powers. LIV took over the case and it all tee’d off.

Surprise, surprise

Yet less than a year after the first LIV Golf event, out of the deep rough comes Mr. Monahan to announce that the PGA Tour would exclusively partner with the investors of LIV golf.  A deal that was once unthinkable, had in fact been agreed in principle, in secret and with no apparent player consultation whatsoever. Most found out in a tweet. Rory got a call.

It’s not a merger

While the carefully word-smithed PGA Tour press release and subsequent media talking points positioned the potential deal as a unifying act, resolving the anti-trust litigation and bringing a comforting blanket of peace across the golfing world, the wording made it clear what this really was, and it wasn’t about merging with LIV.

The PIF have signed a framework agreement with the PGA Tour to secure exclusive rights to fund the PGA and DP World tours. In effect, PIF wants exclusive financial control of professional men’s golf tours. A casual reader might say the PIF are buying the PGA Tour. Other interpretations are available.

All the fuss and outrage may prove to be a distraction from the awareness of who may soon own professional men’s golf – PIF. But why would they stop there?

How about replicating the deal with the LPGA and LET to ‘partner’ with women’s pro golf? It might be a PR challenge to control any media backlash about Saudi control over women’s golf, but the PGA Tour deal is a good dry run. I understand representations may already have been made to the LPGA.

A new golf product

The new men’s pro golf entity – and I’m sure it will get a new name if the deal is completed – will offer “the highest-quality product to the many millions of long-time fans globally, while cultivating new fans.” – PIF Governor and multi corporate board member, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.

The word “product” in that statement gives a clue to the business motivations behind the deal – diversification, growth, brand, optics. And the growth is in the future media rights.

The PGA Tour 6th June press release stated:

“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.”


If I put myself in Rory McIlroy’s shoes that morning, taking a call from Jimmy Dunne, investment banker, golf fanatic and an independent director on the PGA Tour’s policy board, I’d feel my trust had been betrayed. I’d feel foolish and used – as Rory said, “a sacrificial lamb.” I’d be wondering if this was the plan all along, and myself, Greg and others were just pawns in the game. I may have known about some initial peace talks to make the legal cases go away but PIF investment in the PGA Tour? Never saw it coming.

Rory had been the key PR attack man in the war of words with LIV. He hates LIV and his passion was clearly put to good offensive line work by the offices of Jay Monahan. Rory was a past chairman of the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council and is a player director on the current PGA Tour policy board – the same board as Jimmy Dunne, btw. But neither official standing warranted Rory’s consultation.

Golfing diplomat

Rory’s advocacy responsibilities have demonstrated an absolute loyalty to the players, the PGA Tour and everything they stood for in professional golf. And yet, despite the mental and emotional cost of the ongoing media distraction that the past year’s battle had taken, he was apparently kept in the dark about the intended partnership, just like everyone else.

I would have felt more than unsettled. That’s polite for downright angry. But Rory has been far more considered, professional, and diplomatic than I would have been, at least in public. I think I would be done with golf politics, learned my lesson and be keen to win more majors. I may even strike a few names of my Christmas card list.

Not a done deal

Corporate mergers and acquisitions can be brutal and stressful to live through. I’ve worked through half a dozen from both sides of the deal on both sides of the pond.

On one hand, when an initial agreement is signed, you are told nothing changes, nothing final, business as usual, mainly to avoid jumping the gun and creating employee panic due to future uncertainty. But on the other hand, you know things absolutely need to change and fast to grow and make money – that’s the whole justification for the deal.

Legally, not much changes until the due diligence and valuation is done, the legal and financial details have been signed off, including who gets which job on the leadership team, for how much and how many stock options.

Oh, and let’s not forget that government regulators might intervene. Jay Monahan and Greg Norman have already been invited to explain themselves to the US Senate and make all the deal documents available. That might prove awkward.

Inevitably, once the deal is done, the pace quickens. The acquirer will cull the acquired, stripping out any duplication of inferior processes, unsustainable costs and managing out underperforming employees, and vocal non-believers. People will choose to leave or get pushed.

The smartest leave first and fast before the grim reaper hits send on their firing email. That’s if there is any other golf tour to go to.


And there’s usually a figurehead leader, the CEO of the acquired entity, who will be kept on, given a golden deal to hang-on-in-there, make no decisions and confidently say reassuring things to staff and media that smooths out the transition, until one morning they’re gone too – contractual gardening while exploring new opportunities and a new leader is hailed.

A week after the original deal news release, the PGA Tour announced that Jay Monahan was stepping back while he recuperates from a medical situation. We wish him very well and very soon.

Many men – One guvnor

While the future acquisition may help resolve some worrying litigation issues, other difficulties may be emerging that could prove resistant to the peace-making intention of the new entity.

One of the key arguments of those who signed up with LIV was that pro golfers are independent self-employed contractors and free agents who should be free to contract with different tours and the independently controlled majors on a non-exclusive basis if they are good enough to do so.

How will that work when the playing contracts and payroll for the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf might all go through the same legal and finance departments at PIF Golf HQ? There will only be one employer of those pro golfers.

Unifying contracts

Will one set of players claim they should have pay parity with others? They might say, “they got a massive signing fee and get paid more for 54 holes than we do and we risk getting cut.” That’s tricky to defend when all parties work for the same entity. It’s difficult to believe that loyal PGA players will let that go until they get compensation.

Unifying golf into one company works well for the controlling entity, but less so when you want a future tour card. And this is before we even get started on the lucrative future  media rights of who gets to watch what and when on which device for a subscription fee.

Media revenues are about TV right now but it will be streaming and game play soon. Imagine playing against Rory or Scottie or Brooks live, during a tournament, on a golf simulator or phone game and see your score on a global digital leaderboard during the live tournament. Golfers will pay for that.

A game of monopoly

While LIV golf has clearly disrupted the PGA Tour’s comfort and forced change, which is a good thing, ironically, the LIV lawsuit claiming the PGA Tour is a monopoly has been placated because a larger monopoly has been agreed in principle by the investor behind the original complaint. This will not go unnoticed.

Dominant or monopoly market players are rarely a good thing for those who sell their goods and services to it or buy rights from it.  That just attracts even more anti-competitive scrutiny from the US Department of Justice and possibly the EU who might block the deal.

What’s more, this all-encompassing new tour golf entity will be exclusively backed by the sovereign wealth fund of a kingdom that some US citizens have cause to find deeply morally troubling.

Other golfing patriots may be distinctly uncomfortable that a historic American sporting institution will be exclusively financially controlled by Saudi money that could veto any other home-grown ownership offers.


But in a world where golf is a long way down the rankings of sports popularity, most sport loving onlookers will have other pressing concerns, like paying the mortgage and feeding their family.

They may feel golf is a sport with a high cost of entry and played by the wealthy few who belong to exclusive clubs. The PIF deal sort of proves their point. However, other sports, most notably, soccer teams, are attracting the diversification strategies of sovereign wealth funds.

Is soccer governance next on the list? Mr Al-Rumayyan is learning a lot about the Premier League as the Non-Executive Chairman of Newcastle United. What about the governance of the highly watched American football, basketball and baseball?

One thing is guaranteed – the formation of a new commercial entity to unify golf is a story that has a long way to roll down the fairway and will be watched closely by all with visions of owning entire sports.

Team unity

The next chapter is about to be previewed as we look for evidence of golfing unity during the Ryder Cup build-up. Afterall, unification was hailed as a key objective of the deal.

So, will Zach and Luke be free to choose from finest golfers the USA and Europe has to offer, regardless of playing contract, or will they pick those who won’t fight each other in the team locker room? Let’s see.

Play well and unify

Paul Hart is a co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker and an enthusiastic golf improver.

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