Golf’s global fanbase is dipping at an alarming rate. And the LIV/PGA Tour feud is driving a wedge through the middle of the sport. With a potential merger between the two bodies on the cards, it’s time for them to set aside their differences and work together to attract new audiences. The solution would need to be radical, which is why I think a LIV/PGA Tour should create a festival-like golf format to completely reboot the sport.
There’s no denying that golf requires modernization. It has remained unchanged for the past 100 years, and the average age of a PGA Tour viewer is said to stand at 64 years old. All the while, the number of people viewing golf on TV is in decline. The viewership of the PGA Open final declined 5% this year. This should worry the PGA Tour.
The challenge of attracting a more diverse audience has long plagued the sport, with its traditional image and pace of play having deterred younger viewers who typically seek faster-paced and personality-driven sporting experiences. Meanwhile, the sport’s demographic has largely been Western.
Compounding the drop in fans is the heated debate around the potential PGA-LIV merger. The 2023 Ryder Cup hasn’t begun yet, and it is already plagued with player politics. We’re not talking about a small bicker on the green, like when Azinger refused to let Ballesteros switch out a scuffed ball on the second green. It’s more complicated than that. Sergio Garcia has been denied a place at the PGA-organised Ryder Cup after joining LIV Golf. The rivalry is stopping fans from seeing all their favourite players in one place.
LIV and the PGA Tour were tipped to merge in June, but that deal has been put on the backburner. I think this is a huge mistake – what are they waiting for? A merger between the two organisations could be a huge turning point for the sport. Not only to bring its golfers back under one roof, but to create a new format of golf that will fix the sport’s fall in popularity.
LIV brings with it strong financial support, while the PGA has a 94-year history and experience of delivering the biggest golf tournaments in the world. The two bodies should combine these assets and create a new type of golf festival that will attract younger audiences and supercharge its global appeal.
Sports festivals are immensely popular. Take The Hundred cricket series or the World Rugby Sevens Series, for instance. These tournaments have helped to increase the sports’ mass appeal, bringing high-scoring matches, music, and purpose-built fan zones.
What if LIV and the PGA Tour did something similar with golf? With $3 billion set to be generated from the merger, the new organisation could completely transform the sport by introducing different course layouts and minor rule changes, and also build temporary infrastructure such as music stages and food halls.
Let’s start with the course. Like The Hundred’s shorter overs, a new format could contain shorter courses flanked by temporary grandstands and giant LED screens. Younger spectators, who typically want to see more action, could watch gameplay all the way around the course, and check the screen for slow motion replays. Just like how VAR replays are shown at Premier League football games, golf should bring the same visual excitement to the fairway.
Golf is also hindered by its geography. Golf courses are typically situated in rural and remote locations. The new organisation should host tournaments at courses near urban centres, using existing transport infrastructure so fans can easily get there.
But the LIV and PGA can go one step further too, and host tournaments in entirely new locations such as Asia and the Middle East. The UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia especially have the resources and capital to invest in brand new sporting infrastructure. Qatar transformed sections of desert into eleven purpose-built stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup – there’s nothing to suggest that it can’t do the same for golf too. Better still, the countries offer a brand new fanbase just waiting to be tapped into by sporting bodies.
I’m not suggesting that LIV and PGA Tour should overhaul the sport as we know it, but the sport is in desperate need of an offshoot. The Hundred cricket series and the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament are living proof that you can create a whole new format of sport, without killing interest in its predecessor. If the LIV/PGA merger finally goes ahead, creating golf festivals should be at the top of its agenda.