It came out of nowhere. Tuesday’s announcement that golf’s bitter rivals would join forces took everyone by surprise – even, it seems, the players.
The US-based PGA Tour said its merger with the breakaway LIV Golf and the DP World Tour would “unify the game,” with all pending litigation mutually ended under the new agreement. A truce has been called.
Although it’s unclear at this stage what this means for the future of golf, it appears some of its most important stakeholders are attempting to bring unity to the sport after a period of division.
What the partnership means
The move unifies PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf’s commercial businesses and rights under a new, yet to be named for-profit company.
A spokesperson for the PGA Tour told CNN that the new relationship is not being viewed as a merger, but “a partnership/creation of a new commercial entity.”
In a memo to PGA Tour players, commissioner Jay Monahan said the new partnership would require approval from the PGA Tour policy board, while Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), told CNBC he expected it to be finalized “in a matter of weeks.”
The announcement promised a “capital investment” from PIF – Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has splashed billions of dollars on investments at home and overseas – to “facilitate” the “growth and success” of the new entity.
Monahan said that golf’s calendar for 2023 would remain the same, while also confirming that the team element to LIV’s format would continue in some capacity.
The announcement also said that Al-Rumayyan, the majority owner of Premier League club Newcastle United, would be named to the board of the new entity as chairman, with Monahan named the chief executive.
Most importantly, the merger would end almost two years of legal disputes between the organizations and their participants.
“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” Monahan said in a statement.
What about the players?
Participating players in the LIV Golf series were banned from competing in PGA Tour events – although they could compete in all four majors – and were punished for leaving the established tours.
In a memo obtained by CNN from a PGA Tour spokesperson, Monahan said a “fair and objective process” would be established for players wanting to re-apply for PGA Tour or DP World Tour membership after the 2023 season.
Ahead of the inaugural event last June, players resigned their PGA Tour status to compete at Centurion Golf Club near London for LIV Golf’s inaugural event.
Eleven LIV Golf players filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in August last year, which was scheduled to be heard in May 2024.
In April, the DP Word Tour won in arbitration against members of the LIV Golf series after players had appealed following the European Tour’s decision to discipline them for wanting to play in the inaugural event.
Appeals brought by the players were dismissed, and the £100,000 ($125,000) fines originally imposed had to be paid within 30 days.
Shortly afterwards, three of European golf’s biggest names – Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood – quit the DP World Tour and therefore ruled themselves out of the Ryder Cup after the DP World Tour won its legal battle to be able to suspend and fine players who featured in conflicting LIV Golf events without permission.
However, much is now up in the air, chiefly who can and can’t compete in September’s Ryder Cup.
Why has the merger come about?
In short, no one really knows. According to the Financial Times, the framework agreement was brokered over two months of meetings between the PGA and PIF across the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
Monahan told the Financial Times on Tuesday that he began to trust Al-Rumayyan “10 minutes after sitting down with him in Venice.”
Relations between the two sides of the argument seem to have thawed over recent weeks after 12 months of barbs, jabs and pointed comments.
During LIV’s inaugural season last year, it felt as if the quality on display