What does the shock PGA Tour-LIV merger mean for golf?

What does the deal with Saudi Arabia involve, what has the reaction been, and what uncertainties remain around the controversial deal?

The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and their rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf have announced they will combine operations to create a new worldwide golf entity, marking one of the most consequential moments in the sport’s history.

In a stunning statement that took golf by surprise on Tuesday, the US-based PGA Tour and Europe’s DP World Tour said they would end a two-year litigation with LIV’s Saudi backers and form “a new collectively owned, for-profit entity”.

“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.

Here is what you need to know about the controversial deal:

What does the deal involve?

The organisations said in a joint news release that they will work together to allow a process for LIV Golf players to reapply for membership on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, formerly known as the European Tour, following the 2023 season.

The name of the newly merged entity and the precise structure of the tours have yet to be announced. Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), will chair the board of the new entity and PGA Tour’s Monahan will be CEO.

The merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties.

Additionally, the PIF will make a capital investment into the new entity to “facilitate its growth and success” and will initially be the exclusive investor.

Each of the three tours would be responsible for the so-called “inside-the-ropes” operations of its own tour — site selection, tournament operations, rules enforcement, and so on.

What was the background?

LIV, funded by Saudi Arabia’s PIF, was formed following a series of discussions between PGA Tour and Saudi officials.

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.

Players including Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, and Rory McIlroy – who fiercely criticised LIV – turned down eye-watering sums from LIV Golf to remain loyal to the PGA Tour.

The rift had led to a series of lawsuits and caused acrimony between players who turned to LIV and others. The PGA Tour suspended members who competed in LIV tournaments without permission, while the DP World Tour fined players.

Monahan said last June that golfers should be “ashamed” for joining the LIV Tour.

“They are helping the Saudi regime ‘sportswash’ their reputation in return for tens of millions of dollars, at the very same time our government is rolling out more damning evidence of Saudi culpability in the 9/11 attacks.”

What has the reaction been to the deal?

The bombshell announcement was slammed by many PGA Tour players. US media reported that they had been kept in the dark about the merger until the news broke on Tuesday.

Monahan described a closed-door meeting on Tuesday with players who had stayed loyal to the PGA Tour as “intense” and “heated”.

“I recognise that people are going to call me a hypocrite,” he said, but added that “circumstances do change”.

American Wesley Bryan and others said players were upset at finding out over Twitter.

“Y’all should be ashamed and have a lot of questions to answer. I feel betrayed, and will not not be able to trust anyone within the corporate structure of the PGA Tour for a very long time.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said the merger is “more evidence of the onward march of Saudi sportswashing”.

“It’s been clear for some time that Saudi Arabia was prepared to use vast amounts of money to muscle its way into top-tier golf – just part of a wider effort to become a major sporting power and to try to distract attention from the country’s atrocious human rights record,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, said.

“Away from the glamour of the golf courses and the TV cameras there’s been mounting repression in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights activists arrested, a spate of unfair trials, and with the death penalty widely used, including as a tool of political repression.”

In Washington, DC, a group representing the families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks also accused Monahan and the PGA Tour of “hypocrisy and greed”.

South Korea’s An Byeong-hun tweeted that the deal was a win for the tours but not for the players. “I’m guessing the liv teams were struggling to get sponsors and pga tour couldn’t turn down the money,” he said. “Win-win for both tours but it’s a big lose for who defended the tour for last two years.”

However, the merger was given swift backing by six-time major winner Mickelson, the most prominent of the defectors to LIV.

“Awesome day today,” tweeted Mickelson.

Bryson DeChambeau, the former US Open champion who was one of the first big names to sign up for LIV Golf, said he felt “bad” for the players who stayed loyal to the PGA Tour.

He deflected a question about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record but said the merger was “the best thing that could ever happen to the game of golf”.

McIlroy – previously one of the staunchest critics of LIV Golf – said on Wednesday he thought the deal would secure the financial future of the sport.

“I think ultimately, when I try to remove myself from the situation and I look at the bigger picture and I look at 10 years down the line, I think ultimately this is going to be good for the game of professional golf,” McIlroy said. “It unifies it and it secures its financial future.”

What uncertainties remain?

It remains to be seen whether the deal will be finalised, as it is still a “framework”. The PGA Tour’s policy board – which includes McIlroy and four other players – has to approve the final arrangements.

No details were given as to how the agreement will affect the current competitive golf landscape, including eligibility for this year’s Ryder Cup, though the parties did say they will work in the coming months to finalise the terms of the merger.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies