The PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit have announced a landmark agreement to merge and form a commercial entity to “unify the game of golf”.
The agreement on Tuesday puts an end to litigation between the legacy tours and LIV that would have gone to court in California next year, and it caps the end of a saga that caused turmoil in the sport for close to two years.
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Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which provided LIV with enough money to make star players massive guaranteed offers and pay record tournament purses to lure them away from the PGA Tour, will make a capital investment into the unnamed combined entity as part of the agreement.
The tours also said in their joint announcement that players who were indefinitely suspended by the PGA Tour or the DP World Tour for playing in LIV events could have a path to return as the organisations “will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership” to the legacy tours.
“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in the news release.
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, reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and Australian Cameron Smith.
“They were going down their path, we were going down ours, and after a lot of introspection, you realise all this tension in the game is not a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press news agency, adding that the decision came together over the past seven weeks.
“We have a responsibility to our tour and to the game, and we felt like the time was right to have that conversation.”
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the board of the PGA Tour, which continues to operate its tournaments. Al-Rumayyan will be chairman of the new commercial group with Monahan as the CEO and the PGA Tour having a majority stake in the new venture.
“Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world,” Al-Rumayyan said.
“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 longtime fans globally while cultivating new fans.”
Still to be determined is how players like Koepka and Johnson can rejoin the PGA Tour after this year. Also unclear was what form the LIV Golf League would take in 2024.
The decision to merge comes less than two weeks before the third major championship of the men’s golf season, the US Open. For parts of 2022 and 2023, the majors were the only times that LIV Golf players commingled with the PGA and DP World Tour players.
Animosity grew between the factions as Mickelson often spoke as the de facto player leader for LIV and directed accusations of collusion at the PGA Tour and other governing bodies and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy fiercely defended the PGA Tour and criticised LIV frequently.
Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at Skema Business School in Paris, told Al Jazeera that the announcement had come as a surprise to many in the sport, but that both sides probably saw mutual benefits in the deal.
“What they’ve been able to do is strike a deal whereby Saudi Arabia gets legitimacy by being associated with a really historic golfing entity. At the same time, the PGA and DP tour get economic legitimacy and power by essentially striking a financial deal with Saudi Arabia and the Public Investment Fund,” he said.
“It seems like ‘happily ever after’ but there’s definitely been a compromise behind the scenes.”