Golf

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Will Destinations Bid on Hosting a Direct Competitor to the PGA TOUR?

29 Jan, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Maybe someone thinks there aren’t enough competitive golf opportunities in the world – or that enthusiasts want one more event to watch from their living room (or device). Maybe there are a lot of sponsors lining up to be involved and a lot of players ready to jump in.

Whatever the reason, the Premier Golf League, if it comes about, will add yet another platform for spectators. In the process, though, it could hurt golfers - and destinations' relationships with the PGA.

First, the backstory. The Premier Golf League, according to an article in the UK’s Sports Business, will kick off in 2022. The event owner, the World Golf Group (WGG), says it will 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 about two years now. According to the current plans, 10 of the 18 tournaments would be sited in the U.S. And from the outside looking in, that seems to be an idea that could make for some excellent economic impact for golf destinations.

So…two questions. What makes this different from any other tournament out there, and why hasn’t this been done before?

The schedule, National Club Golfer notes, is one major difference, at least according to a press release put out by the organization.

“Our players will get four months off – without the pressure of knowing that others are accumulating points while they recharge. They’ll play three days not four – putting less strain on their bodies – and will be part of a team, with team benefits. They will, of course, be required to travel, but on a sensible schedule, and we’ll place them in situ before each of the majors.”

Sports Business adds that WGG is seeking to sign up 48 players, with an individual champion to be decided after the 17th event and the finale to be staged as a team play-off. WGG’s statement included this note: “If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product, week-in-week-out. Golf doesn’t do that currently.If you had the chance to start again, you wouldn’t create professional golf as it exists today. The League is that chance. We believe we’ll succeed because the League is what fans, sponsors and broadcasters want — and the best players deserve. It will revitalize the sport for this and future generations.”

WGG said it has partnered with New York-headquartered merchant bank the Raine Group in the venture. Selected players would be handed part ownership of a team franchise, with WGG stating this would give them the chance to share in “significant equity value.”

While pro golfers likely would enjoy the potential profit of such a franchise, it remains to be seen whether they’ll actually join, since it would bring them into conflict with one PGA TOUR regulation stating that members can't have financial interest in one another.

That's problematic in itself, but it also brings us to our next question: Why hasn’t this been done before?

The answer, of course, is that it has – or at least was attempted. Greg Norman first proposed a world tour in 1994 but then-PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem threatened to suspend all players who took part in it, thereby ending any potential for Norman's event to move forward.

WGG's take? It's a new day, new thinking is in place and this will work out.

WGG has already approached a number of the top pros, including Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, but nobody has yet publicly committed. In fact, golf-specific destinations in the U.S., especially those that currently enjoy a good relationship with the PGA, might be uneasy about signing on to host events for the Premier Golf League as well.

And that, of course, brings us to the final point. The Premier Golf League would be a direct competitor to the PGA TOUR, as well as to the European Tour. WGG glosses over that, saying the Premier Golf League would work with established golf tours. However, both the PGA Tour and European Tour have dismissed such a proposal. The PGA TOUR told the Reuters news agency: “We don’t comment on the business of other tours, real or hypothetical. We’re focused on our business.”

European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley told UK news agency PA News: “We’re not in the habit of talking about the business of other tours, whether they are true or fictional.”

Apparently, the first rule of other golf leagues is that you don’t talk about other golf leagues - at least not by name. PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan recently sent an e-mail to all tour players, expressing concern about this and identifying problems inherent in competition, which he identified only as a "Team Golf Concept or any other iteration of this structure." And he noted, the PGA TOUR was prepared to take whatever steps were necessary to keep the new tour from launching.

McIlroy, like many players, appears to be content with his role on the PGA TOUR – and in no hurry to jeopardize it by jumping onto any new platform.

Speaking to Sports Business News while playing at the Farmers Insurance Open, McIlroy noted, “It’s a hard one…but I love the PGA TOUR, I love the way golf is set up right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose what’s been built in the last 40 or 50 years, tournaments like this. I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward. But I think it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward and reward the top players the way they should be.”

If golfers at the highest levels follow McIlroy’s way of thinking, WGG might have to reformat and attempt recruitment from a different demographic, such as retired players or those coming straight out of college and more willing to take chances. (If they opt to go in the latter direction, they might do well to recognize the growth of the sport at the collegiate level on the women's side).

SDM will continue to follow this issue.

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