How Will Saudi Arabia’s Challenge to the PGA Tour Change the World of Golf?

For decades, the professional golfing circuit has remained relatively the same. The PGA Tour has been the standard for professional men’s golfing worldwide since its current incarnation began in 1968. The four men’s majors (the Masters, the PGA Tournament, the US Open, and the Open Championship) are each run by different organizations. While this is can be confusing, it has been the status quo of the golfing world for quite some time.

Now, however, a challenger has appeared in the form of the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf Invitational. This new entity is offering huge prize money and is set to shake up the world of professional golf if it can gain traction with both players and fans.

How the LIV Golf Invitational Came About

There have been several attempts over the years to create a tour that would compete with the PGA Tour, but none of those efforts has ever created a viable alternative. The most recent attempt occurred right before the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Premier Golf League (PGL) was trying to put together the funding for a new tour. Meetings with Saudi Arabian officials led to the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), a government wealth fund investing heavily in the new venture, which, after behind-the-scenes wrangling, became the LIV Invitational. The PIF is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. Legendary golfer Greg Norman was named the commissioner of the new entity in October 2021, legitimizing the start-up. The LIV is being sanctioned by the Asian Tour.

For its inaugural season, the LIV will hold eight events, with the number rising to 10 in 2023. It has been decided that 48 golfers will participate in 2022’s events, including 16 of the world’s top 100 ranked golfers. These golfers are also being divided into 12 four-person teams that will compete for the best scores and be awarded additional prize monies.

The promise of larger prize pools than the PGA Tour and the more frequent matchups of top-ranked golfers give the LIV an appeal to both players and fans. However, the new venture has not yet secured a television rights deal, and for the time being, it will be shown on Internet outlets like YouTube and Facebook.

Controversy and a Strong Response from the PGA Tour

The presence of the Saudi government in the financial backing of the LIV invitational has drawn heavy criticism from some quarters. The Saudis have been accused of “sportswashing,” that is, associating themselves with popular sporting events to downplay their less-than-stellar record on human rights. Their backing of the LIV follows investments into tennis, soccer, and professional wrestling.

The involvement of Crown Prince Salman is particularly troubling as US intelligence accused Salman of being behind the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his death, Hatice Cengiz, has spoken out against the golfers who have joined the LIV tour. “If they still carry on and play as if everything is normal, then they should be banned from playing in the world’s major tournaments,’’ Cengiz wrote. “This will show that there are consequences for supporting murderers, and it will show the murderers that they are not escaping justice.’’

The PGA Tour has taken swift and decisive action against the 17 golfers who decided to participate in the first LIV event earlier this month. The entire group has been suspended from the PGA Tour and will not be eligible to play in any tour events. This group has some illustrious members including multiple major winners Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. The PGA Tour also announced that anyone choosing to play in any future LIV events will also be immediately suspended. Greg Norman stated that the LIV would be willing to help any of the suspended players who want to fight their suspensions in court.

The appearance of the LIV Golf Invitational has sent shockwaves throughout the men’s golfing world. A serious contender to the long-established PGA Tour, the LIV has the financial backing to compete for quite some time. It has already attracted some top golfers and will undoubtedly look to lure more to its events with the promise of larger prize money. The PGA Tour is not standing by idly while this new entity seeks traction in the golf world. The suspensions of any players entering LIV events may well lead to legal action that could decide the fate of the men’s golf world for years to come.

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