Compleat Golfer‘s playing editor wonders if the ‘World Golf League’ is the future of the sport.
A couple of months ago I spoke about the improved relationship between the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour. This development saw them coming together to work on scheduling their events so that the top players could play the premier events on both Tours. In a nutshell, this meant the PGA Tour wouldn’t schedule any of its big events the same week as a Rolex Series event, so the top European players could support the DP World Tour.
We saw evidence of this with the Rolex Series events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic were resounding successes with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa taking part. However, it’s what happened in the week that followed these events that raised eyebrows. Namely, the Saudi International.
Before we can talk about the event itself we need to sketch the scenario.
In 2019 we heard the first rumours of a ‘World Golf League’ which was going to be financially supported by the Saudi Arabia-based Public Investment Fund. The league was going to change the way professional golf was being played by forming a Tour that followed the Formula One blueprint. Players would be employed by teams, instead of being self-employed, with guaranteed yearly payouts while also playing for weekly prize money.
These rumours were quickly quashed by the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. They combined to say this is not how the game was meant to be played and that such a league was of no interest to them. They even went one step further by threatening to ban any individual from their Tours if they were to take part in the ‘Golf League’. Golfing bodies such as the USGA and R&A threw their support behind the two Tours’ stance by saying they would also impose punishments on those players joining the ‘Golf League’.
So the rumblings about the ‘Golf League’ seemed to go away … until the first week in February 2022.
I heard via the players’ lounge chatter that at least three Ryder Cup stars had committed to the ‘Golf League’. All three were being offered a guaranteed $20-million a year before prize money to play a 14-event schedule.
But that wasn’t the biggest shock of the week.
Rumours were rife that Bryson DeChambeau had been offered in excess of $100m to be the face of the ‘Golf League’. DeChambeau was quick to dismiss these as such – rumours – but they surfaced again at the Saudi International.
The Saudi International is financed by the Public Investment Fund, the same company behind the ‘Golf League’. For those who are football fans, it also purchased Newcastle United in October last year, making it the richest football club in the world. So cash is definitely not an issue.
While the tournament had an official prize fund of $4-million, it was rumoured that over $50m was spent in appearance fees to bring the best golfers to Saudi Arabia. The field resembled one at a WGC event, with 52 World Ranking points being awarded to the winner (a WGC would have around 60). All of which made this the strongest field on any Tour around the world for that week.
Apart from the ‘Golf League’, there were also rumours that the Public Investment Fund had approached the representatives of the DP World Tour about possibly buying the entire Tour. This was also given short shrift. So, the fund looked elsewhere, to the Asian Tour.
Since Covid-19 the Asian Tour has barely had an event. The travel restrictions within Asia made life tough for the players on that Tour. It has since been reported that the Public Investment Fund has now bought the Asian Tour, promising prize funds averaging around $4-million a week by 2023, with the Saudi International being the new flagship event for the Tour.
On top of that, the Asian Tour is hosting an event in London – the very city the DP World Tour calls home. In doing so it shows its intent to compete with the DP World Tour and signals the Public Investment Fund’s dismay at being rejected by the DP World Tour.
With a limitless budget, a vendetta for revenge and already shaking up the world of golf, it begs the question – are the PGA Tour and DP World Tour delaying the inevitable? Is there any problem money can’t solve? But most importantly, is the ‘Golf League’ the future of the sport? We’ll have to wait and see.
– This column first appeared in the March 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!