It was the civil war that threatened the very future of golf as a professional sport.
On the one hand, there were the traditionalists who wanted to protect the integrity of the PGA TOUR, which has been considered the sport’s blue riband circuit for decades.
And then there were those players who simply wanted to play less golf – but earn more for the privilege. With the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund on board, they had a financial backer willing to put up the money for a rebel tour….known as LIV Golf.
Antitrust lawsuits and counter-suits were filed in America’s highest courts, while players including Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson traded barely-concealed barbs on social media and in person.
The DP World Tour, a rebrand of the former European Tour financed by more Middle Eastern money, was caught in the middle – losing players to the two premier tours and fading almost into irrelevance.
Fast forward a year and, scarcely believable, the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and the DP World Tour have announced that they are to merge as a ‘commercial entity’. Quite what that means is anybody’s guess, although the outcome – the PGA will no doubt get some PIF investment, while LIV tournaments will be recognised by the Official World Golf Rankings – means that both sides will likely be pleased.
Mind you, some of the PGA TOUR’s players are furious – they found out about the merger at the same time as everybody else as the news broke on Twitter. Others have called for PGA TOUR CEO Jay Monaghan to step down….in one hastily arranged players meeting, he was accused of being a ‘hypocrite’.
Nothing like finding out through Twitter that we’re merging with a tour that we said we’d never do that with.
— Mackenzie Hughes (@MacHughesGolf) June 6, 2023
So how will the merger between the PGA TOUR, LIV Golf and DP World Tour actually work?
Which Golf Tours are Merging?
Before LIV Golf came along, there was a clear pathway for the best golfers in the world to follow.
They would need to secure a PGA TOUR card to get access to what was, for years, the monopoly of top-tier golf. They would do that via the PGA’s Q School, by performing well on the second-string Korn Ferry Tour, or by securing invites into PGA TOUR events by impressing on the European – now DP World – Tour.
Players on the PGA TOUR were allowed to apply for membership of the DP World Tour, granting them access to as many flagship tournaments a year as they wanted to play in.
But then LIV Golf came along….
A handful of players, including major champions like Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith, decided that they wanted out of the PGA TOUR’s treadmill. They wanted to play less events per season while earning mega-money – with guaranteed payouts for all players in the field. Traditionally, those missing the cut wouldn’t earn a penny for their efforts.
The Saudi Arabian aristocracy have been very keen in recent years to invest their bottomless funds into ‘Western’ sport – call it sportswashing, call it what you will, and golf was a natural target for them.
Advised by legendary figures of the sport like Greg Norman, LIV Golf was born. They completed one season and were into their second when news of the merger were revealed.
The problem for the rebels was that LIV Golf events were unrecognised by the Official World Golf Rankings, which has meant that many of their players have slipped down the standings and no longer automatically qualify for the majors. They were forced to resign their membership of the PGA and DP World Tours as punishment for their insubordination – meaning, in theory, they couldn’t be selected for the Ryder Cup teams.
But as news of the merger broke, it was confirmed that any LIV Golf player could re-apply for membership of the other two tours in the new unholy alliance at the end of the 2023 season.
And so in many ways it will be like nothing’s changed. LIV Golf members will be able to pick and choose when and where they play, while PGA TOUR players can expect greater riches courtesy of the PIF investment.
As for the DP World Tour, it will be stocked by grizzled veterans, up-and-comers and those not good enough to make it to the PGA TOUR or headline-making enough to be picked up by LIV.
Which Golf Tours Aren’t Part of the Merger?
So while golf’s three biggest tours are set for their landmark merger, the other regional circuits will remain as is.
The Asian Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA TOUR of Australia and South Africa’s Sunshine Tour will remain as they are – independent, with an unwritten agreement of syndication that sees their best players occasionally appear in DP World Tour events (and vice versa).
The only slight difference is that the Asian Tour has been bankrolled (to the tune of $200 million) by PIF, with events like the PIF Saudi International and PIF Saudi Open fully sanctioned and available to LIV Golf players.
Will the LPGA Tour Merge with LIV Golf?
Up until this point, the LPGA has remained completely separate to the PGA with regards to their dealings with LIV Golf.
The LGPA Tour retains its monopoly of the top-tier of women’s golf, fed by the regional circuits including the European Tour.
There is, at the time of writing, no indication this will change.