The LIV Golf international series is an international golf tournament backed by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Fund. It made a lot of noise after some of the best golfers and champions like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio García, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, and Lee Westwood accepted lucrative invitations to participate. On 17th March, prize money of a whopping $255 million was announced. The first seven events will have $20 million purses for the individual golfer format, with an additional $5 million split among the top three teams each week.
LIV Golf has disrupted international golf
In golf, The PGA Tour is regarded as the best golfing tour in the world with events taking place in the USA. There are also four ‘Majors’ which are like Grand Slams in tennis – The PGA Championship, The Open Championship, The U.S Open, and The Masters. On 9 June 2022, the PGA Tour announced that golfers (some of whom are members of the PGA Tour) participating in LIV Golf were no longer eligible to compete in PGA Tour events or the Presidents Cup. The European Tour (DP World Tour for sponsorship reasons) refrained from imposing a ban as its constitution doesn’t provide for doing so.
Why did the PGA Tour take this step?
LIV Golf is seen as a major threat to the PGA Tour. Backed by the Saudi PIF, which recently took over Newcastle United (albeit controversially), LIV Golf’s payout structure rewards golfers handsomely. Take for instance the winner of the first event held in England – Charl Schwartzel pocketed $4.75 million, which is highest payout in golf history. The tournament is also suggested to be a front for ‘sportwashing’ i.e. the Saudi Government attempting to better its questionable human rights record and history via sport. This very reason is also why most participating golfers have been questioned on their morals and ethics.
The PGA Tour is also responsible for growing the game and channeling revenue to other aspects of golf. Golfers have maintained over the past few years that changes and modernisation is required for the PGA Tour to adequately reward its members, but the nature of competing with a nation-state backed LIV Golf series has posed a major threat to traditional golf.
The case of BCCI and the ICL
In the past when such organisations have come up in different sports, the governing bodies have imposed sanctions. In Indian cricket, the ICL (Indian Cricket League) was a private T20 league funded by Zee Entertainment. It received a lot of backlash and received sanctions, almost immediately, from the BCCI. Players, umpires and staff were banned from the Indian cricket ecosystem for a period of time. The BCCI later launched its own T20 league, the popular Indian Premier League (IPL).
Does LIV Golf hold any promise for Indian golfers?
The Middle East and India have always exchanged resources and held a positive relationship with one another. In cricket, there is a degree of collaboration to grow the game commercially in the Middle East, while Aramco, the oil giant in Saudi Arabia, is a sponsor in the IPL. There is a high likelihood that LIV Golf will extend invites to Indian golfers in the near future to improve its marketing appeal in the country.
Do you think LIV Golf can survive the initial controversy and define a new era for golf?
Let us know in the comments!