The PGL Counters With A "Better For All" Proposal
As the cash-rich Saudis forge ahead using the Premier Golf League's concept, the original disruptors believe they have a "better model" for the PGA Tour. But will the Tour listen?
Because this is all just too complicated for people with lives, Ladies and Gentlemen, please first welcome to the Battle For The Future Of Pro Golf, A. Glossary.
The PGA Tour Inc. (PGA Tour) - A 501(c)(6) tax exempt “non-profit” whose primary mission is to promote the sport of professional golf through the sanctioning and administering of tournaments for its members, while also taking most of the credit for charitable dollars raised by participating events. In recent years, the PGA Tour has placed an excessive emphasis on schedule-building around two moribund products: Olympic golf and the FedExCup. The Commissioner, Jay Monahan, is lavishly incentivized to raises purses and create playing opportunities and has vowed to retaliate against any defections to other enterprises by suspending or ending a player’s PGA Tour membership.
The Premier Golf League (PGL) - Founded at least seven years ago under the World Golf Group name, this mostly-British contingent has been quietly attempting to alter the professional golf model. Previous PGL names have included Tour de Force and World Golf Series. The vision: a league-driven global elite tour with franchises, shorter tournament weeks, a Ryder Cup-style season conclusion and an overall fan-friendly reformation while working around golf’s major championships. For a brief time in 2020 the PGL was fronted by “global merchant bank” the Raine Group, which reportedly still holds a small stake. And at one time the PGL received funding commitments from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia until receiving criticism for ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s wretched Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Speaking of…
The Saudi Golf League (SGL) - Now working under the name Liv Golf Investments after initially floating the Super Golf League name, the organization was founded in 2020 on one fundamental principle: lifting most of the Premier Golf League ideas and using them to sportwash and drive tourism to Saudi Arabia. Backed by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the current group is now fronted by Greg Norman and searching for another name. A newly announced partnership with the Asian Tour has created a feeder and relegation tour option along with the potential to give out Official World Golf Ranking points if or when a schedule is announced. Former President Donald Trump’s various golf properties are believed to be under consideration as venues.
Now that we have the parties involved explained, here is where things stand: the SGL is attempting to or already has secured player commitments upon signing on Norman as its fronting Shark. They may have already secured commitments based on the rumor mill.
The PGL is taking a different approach. They would like to present the PGA Tour with a revamped model that maintains the Tour “umbrella” and the various positives going with such continuity.
According to two sources, the PGA Tour has not acknowledged receipt of a PGL memo and deck sent in early September, 2021. Nor has the PGA Tour sought to have any discussions with the Premier Golf League at any point.
An outline of the latest proposal has been obtained by The Quadrilateral and reasserts the PGL’s stance of wanting to work with the PGA Tour while offering a merging of the current structure with most of the original PGL concepts. The PGL squashes any hint of a “breakaway” sensibility—“no member would suffer any loss of earning opportunity” according to the memo—with an end goal of presenting a more tangible product that should, theoretically, appeal to the PGA Tour’s disparate interests.
Contacted about the PGL’s proposal and whether they were in receipt, the PGA Tour declined to comment on the memo or its contents.
The presentation points:
The PGL is proposing an entirely new PGA Tour model no longer restricted by non-profit tax status and instead converts PGA Tour Inc. (the players/members) to 50% owners of the league with an estimated value of $5 billion by 2029.
10% would go to the staff, agencies, broadcast partners and Korn Ferry Tour members.
Another 10% would go a foundation benefiting the amateur game, presumably under a new entity bringing the Five Families into the equation.
The remaining 30% would be owned by the World Golf Group.
A new board would grant representation to players who’d receive “automatic qualification rights” and “51 wild cards per season.” Essentially, the PGL is suggesting a new super-charged World Golf Championships model as it has before, with franchises and the intrigue surrounding them. Most key tournaments would be protected or upgraded under the idea. So instead of stars getting plucked away and leaving the Tour with nothing, this would offer a better alternative.
Up-and-comers could move up to the elite events and franchices while struggling players could be relegated but maintain their dignity and other significant perks under the PGA Tour banner.
With the heading, “Reformation Not Revolution,” the briefing note says: “The proposals follow the precedent created by the founders of the PGA Tour, and the PGL would reinforce and remain faithful to their founding principles.”
At various times throughout this saga and as recently as May, Monahan has reportedly said any player joining a start-up circuit will face suspension or possible expulsion from the PGA Tour.
Yet the PGL believes it has found a way around the ugliness of reinventing professional golf, as we could see any day now with player defections to the Saudi-back proposal. The briefing suggests “there would be no cliff edge, no bans and no threat to players’ pensions or OWGR points.”
The question of “value” has never been in doubt should the team franchise component enter the equation and become reality. (At least, based on the current economics and tax implications of sports franchises.) The PGL is also reportedly still bullish on a 13th team driven by their foundation with fan input for three spots. However, the capital sources to jumpstart the proposal remain up for any discussions the PGA Tour and PGL might have.
But this assumes Tour executives, players and their “teams” are interested in something potentially making them wealthier while enlivening a product facing disruption for mostly legitimate reasons. To date, a majority have seemed beholden to the status quo.
Still, one element in this confusing maze of competing interests should now be clear: which of these disruptors is attempting a hostile takeover with backing by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and which is seeking to discuss a reformative approach minus the baggage of a totalitarian, Shari’a law-abiding regime.
The only question now? Why won’t Jay Monahan take the Premier Golf League’s call?
Appendix to the Glossary…
Premier Golf League’s FAQ page.
Most recent Q&A with Andy Gardiner of the PGL by Golf Monthly.
2020 interview with Gardiner on GeoffShackelford.com
Original 2020 exclusive on the World Golf Group’s efforts.
The NLU team has a lengthy discussion about the above topics this week:
Here's the fly in the ointment for the Tour. Although the pension fund is fully funded within the letter of the law. It the Tour were to have a significant drop in revenue, the players pensions could be adversely effected quickly. Today, It's the pensions that the Tour uses as a bludgeon to keep the players in line. Although I'm not an attorney I doubt that the Tour can take away anyone's fully vested pension. It's my understanding that the Tour has an enormous pension obligation to the players...good luck seeing that fellas...money today always wins.
I sorta have a life, so I find this confusing but I have two questions:
1) If PGA Tour players are independent contractors, why can't they play anywhere they want? Or is part of the deal, once you join the PGA Tour, you agree not play on other tours like the Big Easy Tour.
2) If the PGL is a for profit company, will they still have tournaments that are charitable events? We know that it takes a huge number of volunteers to run a PGA tournament. I have volunteered at several myself. It is my understanding you cannot have volunteers working for a for profit company, so all those people would have to be paid and that greatly changes the business model for every tournament.