THIS is an important year for the sport of birdies and bogies, with Scotland serving a central role in how it plays out before the world – all while a high stakes battle looms over golf’s future.
The Open Championship, the oldest major tournament on the PGA Tour’s yearly schedule, will celebrate its 150th edition in 2022. While the former British Open roams the UK from year to year, it’s headed home for its big anniversary to the game’s birthplace at Royal St Andrews.
Meanwhile, while that happy commemoration plays out along the Scottish coast this summer, a controversial new series of golf events will tee it up under the hostile gaze of the PGA Tour. The Super Golf League plans to kick off its first season June 9th at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire, UK.
Owned by LIV Golf, the tour will make eight stops during its initial campaign between the United States, UK, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. The latter country sponsors the $255 million (US) in total prize money through the Saudis Public Investment Fund.
READ MORE: Ukraine to face Borussia Monchengladbach in Scotland warm-up friendly
Greg Norman, two-time Open champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, is the CEO of LIV Golf. As he prepares for the tour’s June debut, he insisted his interests in pushing the Super Golf League forward are to advance the sport that made him famous while offering more players a chance at similar success.
“Our goals are to grow the game of golf and give more opportunities to more players to supplement their earnings and increase their market value,” Norman said. “We’re going to give players a chance to play for that $225 million for eight tournaments. I’m very proud of that, and I hope some kid that’s ranked 200 in the world wins the first tournament and claims the $4 million first prize. It’ll change his life from him forever. ”
According to Sean Bratches, LIV Golf chief commercial officer, the time is right for this new series of events.
“Television ratings for the game of golf have been fading for a decade,” Bratches said. “Outside of a bump during Covid-19, golf participation rates are also declining. Those are the foundational problems we’re trying to solve. While we want to respect and acknowledge the heritage of the sport, we want to bring in new and casual fans.”
Bratches explained that the LIV Golf plan for the Super Golf League is to create a television experience akin to more popular sports such as international soccer or American football. The three-day, 54-hole tournaments will take a 48-player field and hold a draft to form 12 four-player teams. Each tournament leading up to the most lucrative final week’s team championship will offer $20 million prize purses with an additional $5 million divided between the top three teams each week. A shotgun start will make certain all players are on the course together throughout the event, making for a shorter daily window of play.
On April 25th, defending US Open champion Phil Mickelson requested a PGA Tour release to play the first Super Golf League event. Previously, PGA Tour pro Robert Garrigus was the only player to request official permission to play LIV events.
READ MORE: The Open: Record number of fans expected in St Andrews for 150th anniversary
Much media coverage of the Super Golf League plan has been negative, with popular pundits attacking the tour’s Saudi Arabian funding and citing that country’s history of human rights offenses. Norman insisted those same golf writers could point out the European Tour’s history in Saudi Arabia or the PGA Tour’s current cooperation with China (another nation with a bleak human rights record).
“Because of my 45 years in the game of golf, I still have friends in the inner circle,” Norman said. “I do get intelligence, and the information coming across my desk tells me the media is being told that, if they write anything positive about LIV golf, they’ll lose their media credentials. Now, (the PGA Tour) is stifling the opportunity of the professional golfer and the professional writer. This is petty stuff.”
PGA representatives did not respond to messages requesting comment on the emergence of LIV events or Norman’s comments. However, according to multiple reports, PGA tour commissioner Jay Monahan has repeatedly threatened any player willing to join the Super Golf League with exile from the events he controls.
“(The PGA Tour’s threat to ban golfers) is what you’d expect monopolists to do,” Norman said. “But, if you look at what the PGA Tour’s not-for-profit status as an organization stipulates, it says, ‘…to promote the common interest of professional tournament golfers. ‘Nowhere in the PGA Tour’s actions have I seen them try to promote that common interest of professional tournament golfers as independent contractors to allow them the right to go out there and play.”
When LIV events begin and welcome some PGA Tour players onboard, the golf world will wait to see how Monahan and the PGA Tour respond. Any punitive action banning a given player from the PGA Tour over a Super Golf League appearance would likely result in an antitrust legal battle.
Against this backdrop of hostility, Norman claimed that the Super Golf League can exist in unison with the PGA Tour as the new events will not ask players to choose one competitive golf realm over the other.
“We’re 100% additive to the game of golf,” he said. “All we want to do is offer another opportunity for players to play. We want our players to go play on the US tour, on the European tour, on the Asian tour. We encourage that and welcome that.”
As the summer approaches, rumors swirl about which PGA players will join LIV Golf’s team-centric tournaments. Names bandied about include the UK’s Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, along with America’s Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed.
“I’ll make this prediction,” Norman said. “That first event in June? We’re going to put it on, and it doesn’t matter who plays or who doesn’t play. That second tournament, after people see somebody win $4 million – or after the third tournament – some of those top golfers in the world are going to say, I know I can beat these guys easily. They’re not going to pass up that chance at winning.”