The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf League, which have been locked in a bitter legal battle for more than a year, have agreed to unite and move forward in a larger commercial deal, the golf clubs announced Tuesday.
The tours described the stunning development as “a groundbreaking agreement… on a global scale.”
“There’s been a lot of tension in our sport over the last few years,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told CNBC on Tuesday. “Today is about coming together to unite golf, under one roof.”
“…We realized that together we can have a far greater impact on this game than if we could work individually. … The golf game is better for what we did here today.”
The landmark deal between the Tours and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia was completed without the knowledge of many PGA Tour members, as well as LIV Golf players and agents.
A PGA Tour player reached by ESPN on Tuesday said, “No way.”
A golf agent who represents some top-flight LIV golfers told ESPN that he was unaware of the merger.
“You just got my heart pumping,” the agent said before the deal was officially announced.
And everyone thought yesterday was the longest day in golf
— Collin Morikawa (@collin_morikawa) June 6, 2023
I suspect the live teams struggled to find sponsorship and the PGA Tour couldn’t turn down the money. A win-win situation for both tours
But it’s a big loss for whoever has defended the Tour for the past two years
— Byeong Hun An (@ByeongHunAn) June 6, 2023
In a statement, the circles said the parties had signed an agreement combining “the golf-related commercial operations and rights of PIF (including LIV Golf) with the commercial operations and rights of the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour in a new, collectively controlled entity.” united. for-profit enterprise to ensure all stakeholders benefit from a model that provides maximum excitement and competition among the best players in the game.”
The Circles said the agreement ends all pending litigation between the parties.
The three tours said they would “work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any player who wishes to reapply for PGA Tour or DP World Tour membership after the conclusion of the 2023 season.”
“After two years of disruption and distractions, this is a historic day for the sport we all know and love,” Monahan said in a statement. “Recognizing the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model, this transformative partnership combines the DP World Tour and LIV—including the concept of team golf—to create an organization that serves golfers commercially benefits.” and charitable partners and fans.
Monahan held a players’ meetup in Toronto, home of this week’s RBC Canadian Open, on Tuesday afternoon. A player told ESPN that the PGA Tour Players’ Council met with representatives from the United States Golf Association in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday. Monahan and other PGA Tour executives also attended the meeting, but there was no discussion of a possible merger with LIV Golf.
In a memo to players on the PGA Tour Tuesday, a copy of which ESPN obtained, Monahan wrote that the PIF are not only making a financial investment in the new company, but are also a major sponsor of the PGA Tour, the DP World Tour and would become other international tours. Monahan wrote that the PIF will make investments to “collectively build an even stronger and more robust commercial business” and has committed to “significant financial support for causes that have a positive impact on the game worldwide”.
Monahan wrote that the PGA Tour would evaluate how “team golf can best be integrated into the professional sport.” He said LIV Golf will finalize its 2023 schedule, which will resume later this month in Spain.
“They went their way, we went ours, and after a lot of thought you realize that all this tension in the game isn’t a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Another PGA Tour member who contacted ESPN on Tuesday questioned why the merger had to happen when he believed the PGA Tour defeated the LIV Golf League on the course and courses.
“It’s insane,” said the PGA Tour player. “The LIV tour fizzled out. It didn’t work. Now you throw them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?”
“It’s disappointing to be a member of the PGA Tour” Callum Tarren, who is ranked 159 in the world, told the Golf Channel. “…For the guys who have stayed with the PGA Tour, it’s kind of a kick in the teeth. Apparently rory [McIlroy] was a huge supporter of the PGA Tour and now it seems like all that hard work and advocacy for the PGA Tour just fell by the wayside.”
A great day in global golf for players and fans alike. The trip goes on!!
— Greg Norman (@SharkGregNorman) June 6, 2023
The LIV Golf League, funded by the PIF and directed by the two-time Open Championship winner Greg Normanand 11 of his players, including Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeausued the PGA Tour in federal court last year, alleging that the PGA Tour used its monopoly power to stifle competition and influence vendors, media outlets and others to avoid working with LIV Golf.
The PGA Tour filed a countersuit, alleging that LIV Golf interfered with their contracts with players.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, told CNBC on Tuesday morning that Norman was briefed on the agreement with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour just ahead of the official announcement. Sports Illustrated reported on it later Tuesday Norman is not expected to be included in the new business partnership.
Monahan called the reinstatement of PGA Tour members who defected to the LIV Golf League a “complicated endeavor that will conform to established PGA Tour rules and regulations.”
According to the press release, a board of directors will oversee the new company’s commercial activities, operations and investments in the golf sector. The groups will work to create a coherent schedule. The PIF will be the exclusive investor in the new company and will have the “exclusive right to invest further in the new company, including a right of first refusal on the invested capital”.
According to the press release, the PGA Tour remains a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization and maintains oversight of event sanctioning, competition administration and rules.
Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the policy board of the PGA Tour, which continues to host its tournaments. Al-Rumayyan will be chairman of the new trade group, with Monahan being the CEO and the PGA Tour holding a majority stake in the new company. The PIF will invest in the commercial enterprise.
“This is a momentous day,” said DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley. “We are excited not only to be able to reinvigorate 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 bring the game to all corners of the world.”
The PIF had invested more than $2 billion in the LIV Golf company, which critics say is a form of sports laundering to undo the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights abuses.
9/11 Families United, a group of nearly 2,500 survivors of family members killed or injured in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “shocked and deeply offended” by the Tuesday’s announcement.
“PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan last year engaged the 9/11 community in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sporting damage to Saudi Arabia’s reputation,” said Terry Strada of 9/ 11 Families United. “But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi stooges, squandering billions of dollars cleaning up Saudi Arabia’s reputation.”
The group had praised PGA Tour members in June 2022 for his loyalty and “standing for decency” in rejecting LIV Golf.
“I understand the criticism,” Monahan said Tuesday of the partnership with the PIF. “For me it means using the information you have and making decisions in the best interest. Things have changed. This was the right time for this conversation.”