PGA Tour and LIV Golf agree to merger
By Alan Blinder
The PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the insurgent league bankrolled by billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, said Tuesday that they had agreed to a merger, ending a bitter and costly fight for supremacy of men’s professional golf that had divided top players, everyday fans and corporate sponsors.
The merger represented the most stunning success to date of Saudi Arabia’s ambition to become a player in global sports. Yet unlike its purchase of a Premier League soccer team or its sponsorship of events as diverse as boxing cards and Formula One auto races, its billion-dollar play for control of golf seemed from the start like nothing less than an attempt to seize control of an entire sport — one that in the United States has occupied a rarefied place in the sports firmament for more than a century.
LIV Golf had sparked a crisis for the PGA Tour, which has scrambled to reinvent its economic model as it has watched some of its biggest stars switch circuits. But LIV itself has also been a target of fierce criticism, immense skepticism and bitter litigation. Although much about the circuit’s operations remains unclear — many documents that would reveal details are under court seal — some information about its structure and its operations has emerged in legal filings, interviews, business records and internal documents reviewed by The New York Times. And some LIV critics contend that the sovereign wealth fund is using sports to distract from Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses.
Now, by merging with the PGA Tour, LIV Golf has gained a foothold that guarantees it outsize influence in the game’s future after a long struggle to break through, especially in the United States, where the PGA Tour has long dominated men’s professional golf. The governor of the Saudi state entity bankrolling LIV, the Public Investment Fund, will become chair of the new golf organization, which was created so quickly that it was announced before it even had a name.
Here are a few other notable parts of the deal:
— The Public Investment Fund also will have right of first refusal on new investments in the merged tour, according to the statement announcing the merger. That leaves open the possibility for Saudi Arabia to take more ownership of the sport in the future should the tour need to raise more capital.
— In a joint statement Tuesday, the wealth fund and the PGA Tour said the former rivals would “implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway.”
— Under the terms of the tentative agreement, the Public Investment Fund will at first be the exclusive investor in the blended operation, along with the established tours, which includes the DP World Tour, and LIV. Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, is expected to be the new group’s CEO, with Yasir al-Rumayyan, the wealth fund’s governor, installed as its chair.
— The Trump family, an early and eager partner of the Saudi-backed series, took a victory lap after the merger was announced.