The Premier Golf League will have 18 events, 48 players and a massive purse of $240 million
No one has a monopoly on good ideas—proven ones, that is. The business of professional golf is a tricky one, but as the commercial success of the Asian, European, USPGA Tours, as well as innumerable national and second-tier tours across the world attests, professional golf continues to be one of the most lucrative sports in the world. Admittedly, the pro game has been facing challenges in the West: the number of golf courses has steadily declined over the past couple of decades as has the number of players. Millennials, with their short attention span, haven’t exactly been taking to the game in droves, and sponsors have been gravitating towards other sports.
It’s a very different scenario in Asia and the Gulf states. I don’t know about the future, but this is unquestionably where the present of the game lies. Japan, South Korea, China, the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, among other countries, are, indelicately put, where the money lies for golf. Ergo, the European and USPGA Tours have been making transcontinental forays, tying up with national tours, as well as the Asian Tour, to set up and co-sanction events in the region. The latter has pursued a policy of wary cooperation rather than a confrontational one of marking its turf. Needless to say, the Asian Tour realises, prudently, that the star power of the premier tours and the ripple effect of that on television viewership and, consequently, potential sponsorship is only good for the game, and in line with the Tour’s long-term interests.
That is not the way things panned out in 2009 when the renegade OneAsia Tour was launched out of Australia. At the time, the rebel tour had scored one over the Asian Tour by snatching the rights to host the high-profile Volvo China Open as its debut event, followed by the Midea China Classic and the Korea Open. Eventually, though, it was outmanoeuvred by the Asian Tour, and with only three confirmed events in 2017 (all co-sanctioned) and one unconfirmed event in China, the OneAsia Tour hobbled towards an untimely collapse.
That was not the first time attempts to set up a breakaway tour came to naught. Former world number one and golfing legend Greg Norman, as good a businessman as he was a player, unveiled plans for a World Golf Tour (WGT) in 1994 only to have the fledgling proposal squashed by the US PGA Tour’s then commissioner Tim Finchem who threatened to suspend players who took part. Norman even had a television rights deal in place with Fox’s Rupert Murdoch, but the WGT never saw light of day.
Now, 26 years later, the time finally appears to have arrived for Norman’s brainchild, albeit in a different guise. Earlier this month, the World Golf Group, based in Britain, announced a new global golf tour that it intends to launch in 2022. The Premier Golf League, much like the WGC events, will have a restricted field (48 players), no cut, and a massive purse of $240 million. “I’m not saying I’ve been vindicated, but my concept had legs and the timing was not right perhaps because of the individuals behind the scenes,” Norman said last week. “My thought process, my vision was right. It was probably just at the wrong time.”
Even though he’s not working with the new league in a professional capacity, Norman said he was sought out by the Raine Group—the New York-based investment firm that’s backing the new league—as long back as 2018.
“They asked me a few questions—‘What are the potential hurdles and stopping blocks?’” Norman said. “They were already deep into their business concept and proving it out. (The initial meeting) was just trying to understand a little bit more from someone with experience,” Norman told Golf.com.
One of the reasons the WGT failed to take off was that the environment of professional golf wasn’t conducive to the idea of players as independent contractors, untrammelled by an overarching entity. At the time the PGA Tour was sufficiently shaken to take steps to remedy, what it realised was a lacuna in its offerings and established the World Golf Championship (WGC) events with prize money comparable to the four majors.
Now, it’s no secret that a number of top players have differences with the way the USPGA Tour runs its business. On the eve of the Farmer’s Insurance Open last week, Rory McIlroy didn’t mince words when asked about the formation of the new league: “It might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward,” McIlroy said. “You know, reward the top players the way they should be.”
The whispers have already begun and prompted the PGL to issue a statement to the effect that it is the Tour’s intention to “…work with, rather than challenge, existing tours for the betterment of golf as a sport, pastime and media property.” Norman indicated that he’d already heard rumours that the PGL could possibly trigger a merger of the PGA Tour and European Tour to create a world tour.
It’s going to be a headache for the premier tours, but competition is always good to preserve a level playing field. The players are obviously delighted at the development because PGL will offer them a welcome alternative.“I love the PGA Tour, but definitely these guys have exploited a couple of holes in the system in the way golf at the highest level is nowadays and how it has sort of transitioned from a competition tour to entertainment,” McIlroy said. “It might be the catalyst for something a little bit different out here as well… who knows?”
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game