Golf’s US-based PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabia-backed breakaway league LIV have agreed to join forces, ending a long-running feud.
The PGA Tour and Riyadh’s Public Investment Fund have agreed to create a jointly managed entity to house their commercial operations, and intend to cease their pending litigation. The European Tour has also signed up to the deal.
The Saudi-backed LIV Golf, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on attracting some of the top players to participate in its league, will also slot into the new entity.
The deal resolves a dispute between the established tours and LIV, which had clashed over the future of golf in a saga that had highlighted how the oil-rich kingdom’s billions are influencing global sport.
Saudi Arabia hosts a Formula 1 grand prix, and the PIF has invested heavily in football via its ownership of the English Premier League side Newcastle United.
This week, the Saudi government transferred majority holdings in four Saudi football teams to the PIF, arming the fund with key assets as it seeks to attract more players from Europe.
The Saudi-backed LIV, which was launched last summer, splintered professional golf by offering hundreds of millions of dollars to draw in top players. Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were among those who switched allegiances to play for the upstart tour instead of the US incumbent.
Rory McIlroy, who once claimed LIV was “dead in the water” but later rowed back on those remarks, was among the highest-profile stars to side with the PGA, while Tiger Woods also resisted approaches to join the Saudi-bankrolled tour.
The US PGA Tour and the DP World Tour immediately banned any players who joined LIV, which has also come under fire due to Saudi Arabia’s poor record on human rights and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi agents.
The new deal means the kingdom’s $650bn sovereign wealth fund will be central to the future direction of golf.
PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan will chair the board of the new commercial entity, with PGA Tour boss Jay Monahan to be chief executive. However, the PGA Tour will hold majority voting rights in the combined entity.
“Logically we should work together; we shouldn’t work against each other,” Al-Rumayyan told the Financial Times.
Al-Rumayyan, who will also sit on the PGA Tour’s policy board, said that golf was integral to Saudi ambitions in sport, as Riyadh pushes through reforms intended to make the kingdom less dependent on oil.
The tours also said they intended to create a path for players who left the US and European circuits for LIV Golf to reapply for membership.
The PGA and PIF will create a yet-to-be-named joint commercial entity, with a large minority investment from PIF. Details of the stake and its value are still being determined, though PIF will be the exclusive outside investor with the right of first refusal on any future incoming capital commitments.
The framework agreement was brokered over two months of meetings between the PGA and PIF across the US, Europe and the Middle East. Monahan, who once said the PGA was focused on “legacy, not leverage”, told the FT on Tuesday that he began to trust Al-Rumayyan “10 minutes after sitting down with him in Venice”.
The LIV Tour launched its tournament schedule a year ago in London. In addition to offering rich signing bonuses to players, fields were limited to 48 players and 54 holes played over three days.
Its team-based format was inspired by the Formula One car racing series and newer competitions such as the Indian Premier League, which has become the driving force in cricket since it began in 2008.