The PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf League, which have been embroiled in a bitter legal battle for more than a year, have agreed to unify and move forward in a larger commercial business, the circuits announced Tuesday.
The tours called the stunning development “a landmark agreement … on a global basis.”
“There’s been a lot of tension in our sport over the last couple years,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told CNBC on Tuesday. “What we’re talking about today is coming together to unify the game of golf, and to do so under one umbrella.
“… We’ve recognized that together, we can have a far greater impact on this game than we can working apart. … The game of golf is better for what we’ve done here today.”
The landmark deal between the tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was reached without the knowledge of many PGA Tour members and LIV Golf players and agents.
Said one PGA Tour player reached by ESPN on Tuesday, “No f—ing way.”
A golf agent, who represents a couple of high-profile LIV Golf players, told ESPN that he was unaware of the merger.
“You just made my heart skip a few beats,” the agent said, before the deal was officially announced.
In a statement, the circuits said the parties have signed an agreement that “combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity to ensure that all stakeholders benefit from a model that delivers maximum excitement and competition among the game’s best players.”
The circuits said the agreement ends all pending litigation between the parties.
The three tours said they will work “cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to reapply for membership with the PGA Tour or DP World Tour following the completion of the 2023 season.”
“After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” Monahan said in a statement. “This transformational partnership recognizes the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV — including the team golf concept — to create an organization that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.”
Monahan held a players meeting Tuesday afternoon in Toronto, the site of this week’s RBC Canadian Open. A player told ESPN that the PGA Tour’s player advisory committee met with United States Golf Association officials in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday. Monahan and other PGA Tour executives attended the meeting as well, but there was no discussion about a potential merger with LIV Golf.
In a memo to PGA Tour players Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, Monahan wrote that in addition to making a financial investment in the new entity, PIF would become a premier corporate sponsor of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and other international tours. Monahan wrote that PIF will make investments to “build an even stronger and more robust commercial business, together” and was committed to “significant financial support toward causes that positively impact the game on a global basis.”
Monahan wrote that the PGA Tour would evaluate how “best to integrate team golf into the professional game.” He said LIV Golf would complete its 2023 schedule, which resumes later this month in Spain.
“They were going down their path, we were going down ours, and after a lot of introspection you realize all this tension in the game is not a good thing,” Monahan said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Another PGA Tour member reached by ESPN on Tuesday, questioned why the merger needed to happen when, in his opinion, the PGA Tour was beating the LIV Golf League on the course and in the courts.
“It’s insanity,” the PGA Tour player said. “The LIV tour was dead in the water. It wasn’t working. Now, you’re throwing them a life jacket? Is the moral of the story to just always take the money?”
“It’s disappointing being a PGA Tour member,” Callum Tarren, who is ranked No. 159 in the world, told the Golf Channel. “… The guys who’ve stayed loyal to the PGA Tour, it’s kind of a kick in the teeth for them. Obviously, Rory [McIlroy] was a huge advocate of the PGA Tour, and now it looks like all of this hard work and sticking up for the PGA Tour was just left by the wayside.”
The LIV Golf League, which was being financed by PIF and fronted by two-time Open Championship winner Greg Norman, and 11 of its players, including Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, had sued the PGA Tour in federal court last year, alleging that the PGA Tour had used its monopoly power to squash competition and influence vendors, media companies and others to avoid working with LIV Golf.
The PGA Tour filed a countersuit, alleging that LIV Golf had interfered with its contracts with players.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, told CNBC on Tuesday morning that Norman was informed of the agreement with the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour just before the official announcement. Sports Illustrated reported later Tuesday that Norman is not expected to be included in the new business partnership.
Monahan called the reinstatement of PGA Tour members who had defected to the LIV Golf League a “complicated endeavor and one that will be guided by established PGA Tour rules and regulations.”
According to the release, a board of directors will oversee the new entity’s golf-related commercial operations, businesses and investments. The groups will work to establish a cohesive schedule. PIF will be the exclusive investor in the new entity and will have the “exclusive right to further invest in the new enterprise, including a right of first refusal on any capital invested.
The PGA Tour will remain a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization, according to the release, and will retain oversight of the sanctioning of events, administration of competition and rules.
Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, will join the policy board of the PGA Tour, which continues to operate its tournaments. Al-Rumayyan will be chairman of the new commercial group, with Monahan as the CEO and the PGA Tour having a majority stake in the new venture. The PIF will invest in the commercial venture.
“This is a momentous day,” said DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley. “We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also have the opportunity to build on our current strategic alliance partnership with the PGA Tour. Together we will be stronger than ever and well positioned to bring the game to all corners of the globe.”
The PIF had invested more than $2 billion into the LIV Golf enterprise, which critics have claimed is a form of sportswashing to repair the Saudi Arabian monarchy’s history of human rights violations.
9/11 Families United, which is a group of nearly 2,500 survivors of family members killed or injured in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “shocked and deeply offended” by Tuesday’s announcement.
“PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation,” 9/11 Families United’s Terry Strada said. “But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation.”
The group had lauded PGA Tour members in June 2022 for remaining loyal and “standing up for decency” in rejecting LIV Golf.
“I understand the criticism,” Monahan said of Tuesday’s partnership with the PIF. “For me, you take the information you have at the time and make decisions in the best interests. Things have changed. This was the right time to have this conversation.”