After a no-bones-about-it objection on the part of the PGA, and the devastation that 2020 brought to sports as a whole, the Premier Golf League has reared its head again.
Need a refresher course? Here’s the backstory, abbreviated to Reader’s Digest format: The Premier Golf League, according to an article in the UK’s Sports Business, announced it would kick off in 2022. The event owner, the Saudi-backed World Golf Group (WGG), said it would be conducted as a global tour with an eight-month, 18-event season and a total prize purse of $240 million. According to the plan, 48 players would compete in 54-hole tournaments with no cut and both an individual and team format.
The idea has actually been discussed for a few years now. According to the current plans, 10 of the 18 tournaments would be sited in the U.S. – which is, in theory, good news for golf destinations, and particularly now, as recovery from the pandemic continues.
Of course, the PGL is already a hot-button topic in the sport. It’s an obvious competitor to the PGA TOUR – which immediately made it clear that players should be prepared to choose to participate in one or the other.
And even with the great wall of COVID between then and now, the PGA’s position hasn’t changed. In fact, when the PGL made enormous headlines last week by dangling contracts worth up to $100 million to take part, the PGA has dug in its heels, warning anyone who wanted to participate that by doing so, they would face an instant suspension and a lifetime ban.
And while the PGL says it absolutely will start up in 2022, there’s plenty of room for doubt among athletes on the tour.
“I personally don’t think that it’ll happen,” one player told Golf Digest. “This is the tour’s stance, and I feel like major championships will feel the same way. I don’t think this thing is going to go ahead, to be honest.”
The business ramifications alone are daunting. After all, noted Golf Digest, while players who join the PGL may enjoy a lucrative initial payday, they would also risk losing long-term sponsorship funding from companies who do not want to be associated with a Saudi-financed venture.
And if the PGL did manage to sway some good players and get started, could it gain long-term traction in the U.S.? It’s hard to say. Whether it would get TV coverage and, in fact, whether audiences would want to attend tournaments (even if health regulations allow them to do so) are formidable questions. And if the league were to fold, it would likely leave its former players alienated from the PGA TOUR and possibly unable to gain readmittance.
But another consideration – and it’s by no means a small one – affects the events market. Will the PGL’s tournaments will find a home in the types of courses organizers are likely to seek out? Many high-profile golf destinations in the U.S. already host PGA TOUR events and have done so for years. The fact that the sports economy is just now rebounding from 2020 means cities might be reluctant to jeopardize their long-term relationship with the PGA – particularly when that risk is tied to an unproven tour that may or may not last.
In response to questions about destinations, the PGA TOUR told SDM, "At this time, we are not speaking publicly about hypotheticals."
Right now, though, the staggering amount of money being offered to players is making headlines. Among those to receive contracts (though they have not, as yet, signed them) were Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose; they, along with Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott and Rickie Fowler, have allegedly been offered between $30 million and $50 million to move to the PGL. And according to reports, Phil Mickelson has been offered $100 million to act in a leadership role of the league.
Last year, Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods all spoke out, at various times, against the PGL concept. In part, they noted, it eliminated amateurs in favor of high-profile pros.
"I think one of the great things about golf is the fact that there are these storylines of the underdog," McIlroy told the Associated Press. "The fact that anyone can really qualify for the U.S. Open, and have a great tournament and have a chance to win. Those are the wonderful things about golf."
The storylines of golf have long been the stuff of legends and the reasons the sport has been exciting. It’s much the reason March Madness garners viewers year after year. Comeback stories, up-and-coming amateurs and just plain feel-good heroes are the reason the PGA TOUR continues to be a success, and the reason its players said they were going to be loyal.
Of course, that was back before the PGL started waving its contracts around. According to MSN.com, the organization’s principals, currently headquartered in Jupiter, Florida, want players to give answers on the offered contracts immediately:
“That means this affair could even affect the Ryder Cup in September and, if that was the case, the Kingdom, in its ever increasing mission to ‘sportswash' its reputation, could see the plan badly backfire.”
“This will all kick off in the next few weeks…” the MSN article quoted one source as saying. “The Saudis believe the Tour can’t expel members and it could end up in a big legal fight.”
SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.