Another week, another rumor about a competitor to the PGA Tour and European Tour becoming a reality. After some confusion around the time of the PGA Championship about which leagues were actually involved as threats to the two biggest professional golf leagues in the world, a primary contender has emerged with what seems to be a real plan.
The Premier Golf League — not to be confused with the Super Golf League, which is closely associated with backers from Saudi Arabia — said this week that it has plans to launch at the start of 2023 with $20 million weekly purses for 12 four-golfer teams in a truncated season involving just 18 tournaments that do not coincide with the major championships or Ryder Cup.
There are myriad details outlined in this BBC piece from Monday, and even more will apparently be revealed on Wednesday by the PGL itself. Interestingly, there was even some chatter of the PGL working in conjunction with the PGA Tour and European Tour as some sort of superseding top-shelf league which those other leagues could presumably feed into.
The premise here is one that poses a problem to the sport and is unique to golf. The top 5% or 10% of players generate 80% or 90% of the interest and revenue. The reason this is unique to golf is because those individual golf stars can, in theory, go form their own leagues. That is not possible in football, basketball or baseball because so many other players are needed to fill out rosters. Because golf is an individual sport and there are enough stars to carry something like this, it’s not irrational to think it could exist.
There are several problems, though. The first being threats of players getting banned by other organizations from major championships. Remember, the PGA Tour does not run any of the major championships nor the Ryder Cup, so a player could leave the PGA Tour and still play the majors unless the organizations that run the majors stopped him from doing so. This coincides with the question of whether the PGL events could even get Official World Golf Rankings points, which are the primary way for players to currently earn spots in major championships.
There has not been a ton of loud support from the other governing bodies of the sport (the OWGR declined to comment), although the PGA of America — which runs the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup (on the U.S. side) — spoke at last month’s PGA Championship about the evolution of a proposed league.
“If someone wants to play on a Ryder Cup for the U.S., they’re going to need to be a member of the PGA Tour — excuse me, a member of the PGA of America, and they get that membership through being a member of the Tour,” said PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh.
“I believe the Europeans feel the same way, and so I don’t know that we can be more clear kind of than that. It’s a little murkier in our championship, but to play from a U.S. perspective you also have to be a member of the Tour and the PGA of America to play in our championship, and we don’t see that changing.
“The majors and the Ryder Cup are obviously a huge part of the ecosystem in the game. I think that’s part of [an opposing league’s] design, and we think it’s a flawed part of their design, to assume that that would be the case, because in our case, it’s not the case. That’s hopefully pretty clear.”
Waugh is correct about the PGL trying to weave its way around the majors and the Ryder Cup. PGL representative Andy Gardiner told the BBC as much, and also added that his group of backers feels confident that the PGA of America, USGA and anyone else involved is not going to actually ban the best players from the biggest events in the world.
“There have been barriers, but there is no need,” Gardiner told the BBC. “I’ve listened to players talk about being banned, they are not going to ban the players, I can assure them of that.”
There are several other problems, too. How will the money be made? Can you really have $20 million tournaments when the biggest tournament purse on the PGA Tour (or even at the majors) right now is $15 million? What is the long-term outlook for players who potentially make this monumental decision?
“Our business model, you can imagine the number of banks that has been through, it’s been done to death,” Gardiner added. “We know it inside out and it’s literally a case of switching it on.”
Two-thirds of the events would be held in the United States with the rest around the world, and interestingly the PGL is proposing a multi-week celebration of golf with women’s and junior events on the same site as the men are playing. The PGL sees itself as a more modern version of how you would set up a golf league, which – maybe interestingly – even Waugh does not disagree is a bad idea to explore.
“Look, I come from a world of disruption, and I think it’s inevitable — I actually think it’s healthy,” said Waugh. “You either disrupt or you get disrupted. That’s what this is.
“Should it be a hostile takeover of the game I think is way too far. They’ve created this conversation, which by the way isn’t new. It’s been around since 2014 in different forms, has created change. It’s created an alliance of the European Tour and the PGA Tour which we think is really healthy for the game.
“So change is happening, and I think it’s healthy change. Is it enough? I’m not sure yet. I don’t know … I struggle with what they’re solving for. The game is not in crisis. The game has never been better from a participation standpoint. I think the players have never been better served than they are right now.”
He also offered a bit of warning about what the future might hold.
“If you introduce a financial element, that all changes,” said Waugh. “I’ve … lived in that world. There has to be an exit. There has to be a profit. There has to be shareholders. There has to be a lot of things that change that dynamic of not-for-profits doing the right thing and always thinking about the game first, and their players.
“I think you’ve just got to be careful sort of what you wish for. If that’s a better way to watch a game, if a team format or less players … they should talk about it as an industry and think about whether there’s better ways to conduct tournaments.
“But I don’t think anything is hugely broken, so I’m not sure what the solve is for totally, other than an outside body trying to disrupt and get into the game in a way that I don’t think is in the best interest — long-term interest of the game.”
There is a lot going on here, but I think everyone can agree that the PGL is moving forward, and that might not be the worst thing for golf. Whether it ever comes to fruition — whether the money gets settled, the bans get banned and the players start jumping ship — remains to be seen. But hopefully (hopefully!) it does lead to a better product and experience for golf fans who love this sport as much as (or even more so than!) the folks who conduct it for a living.