Golf excited, thrilled and sparkled under clear blue skies in Italy and Spain at recent Ryder and Solheim Cups, but the uncomfortable truth is that the professional sport’s future remains clouded in uncertainty.
No-one can be sure of how the long-term will pan out. It appears the “framework agreement” involving the PGA and DP World Tours and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is in trouble.
This despite all sides wanting it to work. The tours desire the financial security it would bring; PIF want legitimacy in the golf marketplace – an area so disrupted by the breakaway LIV Tour it financed.
But bringing all sides together is proving difficult and the PGA Tour appears to be courting other sources of investment.
Ari Emanuel has confirmed his Endeavor organisation, which has bought WWE wrestling and is merging it with UFC in TKO Holdings, was a number of firms who have bid to invest in the PGA Tour’s new for profit company that was first envisaged in the framework agreement.
“They created a profit investment opportunity for the PGA,” Emanuel told the recent Bloomberg Screentime conference. “We put in a bid I think a week ago, Friday.
“We are in, in TKO, the sports business. I’m an avid golfer,” Emanuel, a seven handicapper, added. “It’s one of the great sports, I love it, I think we can add to it what we’ve added to all of our sports based on the flywheel.”
Could he be mounting a submission hold or knockout blow to the Saudi deal? The 62-year-old businessman, around whom the hit TV show ‘Entourage’ was based, would certainly be getting into an increasingly expensive business.
Despite their tournaments passing relatively unnoticed, LIV has brought hyper-inflation to men’s pro golf like never before. The established tours struggle to keep up and the PGA Tour now needs to pay for the string of $20m events it has introduced in response.
That led to the framework agreement that was announced on 6 June after secret talks that did not include any players. It stunned the golfing world.
Initial confidence that it could be quickly ratified evaporated like a drop of water landing on a desert rock. The new deadline of 31 December 2023 looks increasingly challenging despite the removal of legal action involving all sides.
Lawyers fees might have gone, but there are battles to be fought with the American government which is forensically and uncomfortably examining the PGA Tour’s plans to take massive investment from Saudi Arabia.
Any deal would likely involve a team aspect with franchises that might offer a route towards a return on PIF’s massive investment. But where can this fit into an increasingly crowded calendar?
Don’t forget that a number of top stars have been recruited to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy’s new ‘Tech Golf League’. The planned TGL is a lavish Monday night simulator golf show starting this coming January that will further fill up the schedule.
“I think all parties want it done,” DP World Tour player Eddie Pepperell said on the Chipping Forecast podcast – available on BBC Sounds – when discussing the framework agreement. “But ultimately it is not really workable.
“It comes back to the number one issue that we’ve had all along, and that is the time constraints on people, especially with the emergence of the TGL.”
Pepperell, who is a member of the European tour’s tournament committee, added. “If you want to involve LIV (in the official schedule), they’re going to have to play LIV golf, PGA Tour golf, DP World Tour golf and TGL.
“Well Rory only plays 20-22 weeks a year. You just don’t have have a workable solution.
“And I’ve spoken to a top player about it on the US side and I’ve spoken to people on the high end of the board here (in Europe) and they both say the same thing; it is not looking particularly positive.
“I think that’s where it is at. If I had to put a bet on at the moment I would say there isn’t going to be an agreement that’s going to work for everyone.”
At Donald Trump’s place at Doral in Miami this week, the second LIV season reaches its climax with their Team Championship, an event worth $50m (£40m).
This follows last week’s conclusion of the individual season in Jeddah where Brooks Koepka won the final event to bag another $4m plus a further bonus of $4m for finishing third in the overall standings.
Talor Gooch took the jackpot for the most successful individual season and the bonus $18m boosted his overall LIV earnings in the tour’s two seasons to an eye-watering $47m.
LIV remain outsiders, albeit very rich ones, after they were denied official world ranking points last week. That is the currency they most crave to help provide their players with a route into majors.
This issue could become an important bargaining chip with the establishment because as it stands Gooch, despite his burgeoning bank account, has fallen from 39th to 201st in the world rankings in 2023 and has no eligibility to the four biggest tournaments in the world.
Some might say that is the risk the 31-year-old American took by signing up to the breakaway league, but he is clearly a talented golfer and the majors must surely want the best players in the world competing in their events.
Then again, is 54-hole golf played by a limited field with guaranteed money and no cuts a true barometer for the merits of a professional golfer? While Koepka won the US PGA Championship and finished runner-up at this year’s Masters, Gooch missed the cut in two of the three majors he played in.
If LIV had received OWGR recognition, their points value would have needed to be reduced sufficiently to reflect those diminishing factors. It is a moot point for the next year at least.
And who knows where the game will be by then? Schedules are in place for 2024, when men’s pro golf will again be divided. How it will ever be brought back together is hard to fathom at the moment.