Winds of change are blowing across the golf world with huge amounts of money or should one say millions of Petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia based benefactors being pumped into the game. Should things work out as planned, the game of golf as we know it will change with players in both the amateur and professional ranks benefiting the most in much improved earnings.

For over 100 years, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) has been the foremost organizer of the world’s best golf Tours like the Asian Tour, the South African PGA Championship later named the Sunshine Tour, European Tour incorporating French, Italian, Spanish, German and Swiss Opens and the Australasia and Asia Tours. The PGA originated from the United States of America where the United States Golf Association (USGA) has been integral to the PGA’s success over the years.

Well, things are about to change.

A new Tour organized outside of the PGA ambit is scheduled to commence on 09th June at Centurion Club in London. The organizers of the LIV Golf Invitational Series are led by the irrepressible Greg Norman, himself one of the game’s greats. In the short time he has been at the helm, LIV was able to lure 42 players into the inaugural event to the chagrin of the PGA. Clearly the PGA views the emergence of LIV as an existential threat and has vowed to sanction any player that participates in the LIV invitational. The PGA has since announced that together with DP World Tour (Dubai Ports), they will not grant players releases to contest the Euro 22million event. Among the golfing greats that have signed up and committed to participate in the inaugural LIV tour are Americans Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Kevin Na. South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen and compatriots Charl Schwartzel, Justin Harding, Oliver Bekker, Shaun Norris, Hennie Du Plessis, JC Ritchie,Branden Grace as well as Zimbabwean Scott Vincent are confirmed participants. Sergio Garcia of Spain and England’s Lee Westwood are also in the mix together with other Europe and Australasia based players.

Greg Norman and Phil Mickleson

A bit about LIV Golf Invitational

The Tour is financed by the Saudi Arabia based Public Investment Fund (PIF). This is the same organisation that bought the majority shareholding of Newcastle Football Club in the English Premier League (EPL). LIV has committed to injecting US$225million in eight events with the inaugural event being played in London and five other events in the USA including the final in Miami. Saudi Arabia and Thailand will each have an event. The invitational tour will end in October of this year. It should be noted that there are divided opinions on the LIV project. Some current players view the LIV tour as unsustainable due to the large sums of money used to entice them. Yet others cite the alleged involvement of the Saudi government in human rights violations and the demise of journalist Jamal Kashoggi who was killed and his body dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds (SWF) and essentially bank rolls LIV Golf Investments where Greg Norman is CEO.

Jamal Kashoggi and Mohamed Bin Salman

Each of the 8 events will have a total prize budget of US$25 million with the winner pocketing US$4 million. The last placed player in the event is guaranteed US$120,000. For the Southern Africa participants, playing in the LIV Invitational will be a game changer in respect  to their finances. With the dollar/rand exchange rate at 1:15 our players are in for big earnings regardless of how they fare – the least a player could earn in US dollar terms is US$960 000. If one takes JC Ritchie, the 2021 Sunshine Tour money leader as an example, his career earnings amount to R7,4million of which R1,1million was the single biggest prize money he earned. In his career he has had 23 top ten finishes. Assuming he finishes top ten in each of the eight LIV events and earns US$560 000 for each as 10th placed player, JC would take home US$4,4million from the tour. That is a tidy R67,2million from one tournament over four months. This handsome context is made more appealing by the fact that players would have more time with family, less travel and reduced cost of living and accommodation.

JC Ritchie Career Sunshine Tour Earnings

There’s also $50million reserved for the Team Championship, a figure that dwarfs any PGA Tour purse, with the Players Championship (the most lucrative) paying out $20m. That will be split between the 12 four-man teams, with $16m going to the winning team and at least $1m to the team that finishes last.

Divided Opinions

There are those – players and fans that view the PGA as lacking in innovation and steeped in old ways. They accuse the PGA of being a group of bullies stuck in old ways that include intimidation. This cohort is made up of supporters of the LIV initiative and so hope the inaugural tour will be a success that will shake the PGA establishment and get the age old organisation out of its contented stupor.

Louis Oosthuizen (far left) With Fellow LIV invitational Players

On the other hand we have a group opposed to the LIV Invitational and all that the Saudi Arabia financial backers stand for. On this corner we have players like Tiger Woods who was reportedly offered close to US$ 1billion to join. Tiger has been emphatic in expressing his allegiance to the PGA. He has not necessarily expressed his opposition to the LIV project but has stated his appreciation for what the PGA has contributed to the development of golf and for him personally.

“I just think that what Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) have done in starting the (PGA Tour) and breaking away from the PGA of America and creating our tour in ’68 or ’69, somewhere in there, I just think there’s a legacy to that. I’ve been playing out here for a couple of decades, and I think there’s a legacy do it. I still think that the tour has so much to offer, so much opportunity.

Tiger Woods Celebrates WInning

“And I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front,” Woods said.

For the fence sitters, the questions to be addressed are: has the PGA done enough to improve the lot of the players? We know that without sponsors and endorsements, player finances can be strained. Also, besides injecting much needed financial investment into the game, what does LIV Golf Investment promise to do differently in developing the game globally and in extending investment into the women’s game? Lastly, were it a British billionaire with no political badge backing this event, would we be seeing a very different response from the world of sport to Greg Norman and his breakaway group?

Change is indeed here and it starts on 09 June at Centurion Club in London, England!