Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Greg Norman has been appointed CEO of LIV Golf Investments, a Saudi funded group that will be affiliated with the Asian Tour and stage 10 events per year for the next 10 years. However, the Shark says this is just the beginning and hints that his group will ultimately form a World Tour with many of the top players. What’s your take on this latest move by Norman and where do you see it going?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Well, good luck Greg. He’s been trying for nearly 30 years to get a World Tour going, and maybe with ATMITW (All the Money in the World) he might succeed this time around. But I doubt it. The PGA Tour holds unquestioned power and will try to block this effort any way they can. I suspect Keith Pelley won’t want any part of it, either, for fear of losing his menagerie on the Euro Tour. And if the best cast of players that Norman can pull together turns out to be Robert Allenby, Scott Appleby, and seven Asian players we’ve never heard of, well, that’s not going to draw flies. So, I see it going straight to hell within two seasons.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Not sure what to make of this right now. Norman has blown smoke the last few years about changing the game and the like, and its never amounted to much. I do think something will happen here, whether Norman is the change agent, I’m not sure he has much clout or relations with current top players, not likely enough to recruit them (even though for most money talks). The issue is endorsements, the structure of most of those contracts is situated in such a way that it involves PGA Tour finishes, and ranking, and ranking is certain stats categories, which also relates to appearances (time on TV). Solving for that in this new Saudi backed and based series is not going to be easy to get big names to participate. I’m not sure how many sponsors want the affiliation to that player or that series. Time will tell though.
Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: You have to give Norman marks for tenacity. As I have stated previously it’s about time the USPGA TOUR recognized their country has a population of 300M in a world with a population of 8B. Yes, they are the largest trade partner with every country in the world but maybe not as long as they think. Further, I wish the new group would consider a different approach. I’d love to see 24 or 36 major cities in the world have a team of 24 players made up of men and women. They’d play once per week in a major league schedule in a Ryder Cup format. However, once a satisfactory equalization formula was decided, I’d love to see a blind draw to see who plays against whom. e.g., 2 men vs one last & one man, man vs lady, 2 ladies vs two men etc. Play a 24-week schedule with the top 16 making the playoffs reduced to the top 8, top 4 etc. Players are paid an annual salary like other sports with bonus money for winning.
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s hard to believe that this will grow into what they envision but Greg Norman is quite the name to have involved, he’s a savvy businessman. I’m not keen that it’s Saudi funded, and I’m not sure it will be good for the game. It kind of reminds me how Indy Car racing split into two leagues back in the day and I think it really hurt the sport. It sounds like they are taking a real run at it though, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Hey, we all gotta chill out here. Greg said he went to Saudi Arabia building a course — in the freakin’ desert, bet it has water hazards too — and says he saw women dining in restaurants not wearing burkas and saw women golfing. So, there we have it — it’s cool for women over there. And he says it’s not about money or ego, it’s all altruistic. He just wants to grow the game in Asia (first). So, we can all just relax.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Norman told me in an interview years ago that his business philosophy was “a mile wide and an inch deep”. Hence all the licensing deals to capitalize on his celebrity. He supplied the name; others did the work. Wine, clothing, restaurants. Then came the attempt to be a TV analyst. That didn’t work out so well. And then there was that deal with Verizon to stream live content into golf carts. Not sure how that turned out, but it didn’t have great early reviews. This latest move seems to be ego driven – an opportunity to prove he’s still relevant. Give Norman credit for trying new things but other than a boat load of cash, it’s hard to see what the upside is for him unless there’s some vengeance for the slap-down Tim Finchem delivered in 1995. I’m with Jim on this one – give Norman a couple of years at the outside, then he’s off on the next deal or project, whether this works or not.
Unlike some of the other Saudi-backed proposals, the addition of Norman at least gives this latest venture a measure of credibility. However, in the final analysis, there is still a bad odour attached to the venture based on the source of funding. Players signing with the new group will certainly face blowback from their current Tour, other sponsors who don’t want to be affiliated with anything Saudi -related and perhaps even from fans. In the face of all that, are there enough players willing to “follow the money” to make this a success?
Deeks: There’ll be lots of players wanting to follow the money. But sponsors and fans won’t, if the players aren’t the cream of the crop, and I don’t see Rory, DJ or Rahm leaving the PGA Tour anytime soon. I mean, honestly, there are excellent players on mini tours (and Korn Ferry), but how many spectators do you get at these events, and how much TV coverage? I just don’t see the marquee value in Norman’s stable. And as you say, there are an awful lot of people who would feel queasy about supporting a Saudi-backed enterprise.
Loughry: This is really going to get interesting. How I see this playing out is that players on the downturn of their career may turn to this type of setup to keep their income levels more inline to what they were/are accustomed to. It may also attract young players who haven’t made a name for themselves just yet who might not want to spend 3-5 years grinding it out on developmental tours before they start making big money. I don’t see current high-ranking players vacating to this series though. The PGA Tour is notorious and even more so lately, of rewarding players who bring the most eyeballs to the Tour by their play or even social media feeds. So, if lower ranked players (even journeymen) look to move for good or better pay, that will open more spots for younger players. As I said, for me, this will be really interesting to see play out, to see what the cascading effect actually ends up being.
Schurman: As life goes on, I see the main difference between what the Saudis stand for and what others stand for lies in the eye of the beholder. The US President ordered the drone killing of a high-ranking officer in the Middle East in a street. George W Bush is on the Most Wanted List in several countries. We pray to a certain God and ask for him to give us the strength to provide us with our way of life regardless of what it does to others. Others pray to their God asking a similar thing. “Follow the money”. Isn’t everyone following the money?
Rule: I guess I answered this a bit in my last reply, and I think it will keep enough big players away from this type of venture. The backlash from sponsors will be the main deterrent. There is enough money for the top players in and around the PGA Tour, there’s no need for them to chase money elsewhere.
Quinn: It’s not so much a bad odour, it’s more a powerful stench. Talk about odourific, initial reports had LIV Golf looking into Trump golf courses (you know, the bankrupt ones) as future host venues. They must have assumed no legit course would accept them. If they do stick to events in Asia the first couple of years, a few Tour guys will apply for exemptions to accept big appearance fees for a few events, but if and when it gets to Europe and Saudi Arabia, can’t see many big names following the filthy lucre. They’ve already got enough to afford their great-grandchildren lives of luxury without tarnishing their legacies.
Mumford: The worst political regimes of the last 100 years have used sport-washing to gloss over atrocities and abhorrent behaviour and gain some measure of acceptance. This one stinks, although I’m not sure there’s a sliding scale to say whether the Saudis are better or worse than others. Suffice to say that anyone with a conscience wouldn’t want anything to do with them or their money. Hopefully, enough players have their own moral compass pointed in the right direction.
The USGA and R&A announced that they will loosen restrictions on amateur golfers making money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) and that players won’t forfeit their amateur status by signing with sponsors. Smart move by the governing bodies?
Deeks: I’ve just signed contracts to wear Depends and Metamucil logos on my shirts and bag. AND I get unlimited supplies of both. Hoo-ha!! Seriously, I don’t know if it’s a smart move, in that I don’t think it benefits the governing bodies in any way. But it may make life a little easier for a small handful of amateurs who don’t or can’t make golf a full profession, and bully for them. The “amateur status” rules were unnecessary and archaic, in my view, so I think it’s a good move.
Loughry: I think these Amateur Status changes keep with the theme of recognizing and modernizing the rules more fittingly to today’s times. I think this was indeed smart and should help clear up some issues around college play and other issues that have popped up the last few years.
Schurman: This is a tough one! Over the years, we’ve seen lives ruined over heavy handed application of restrictive amateur rules while on the other hand, Universities are allowed to fund themselves through TV revenue generated by their athletic programs without compensating the players. Most dictionaries quite clearly define the difference between a Professional and an Amateur. However, I think they should be very careful about opening the floodgates. Also, don’t forget Moe Norman was declared a non-amateur for selling his prizes. So, he declared himself a professional but, in those days, becoming professional meant belonging to an organization of Golf professionals. But the only one available in Canada was the PGA of Canada who had fairly restrictive membership qualifications which Moe didn’t meet. So, the RCGA declared Moe a non-amateur which in reality meant he was a professional, but the only organization of professionals didn’t have a spot for him. So, in effect, the RCGA made a decision that impacted others without giving their actions any consideration or consultation of who they affected and all because Moe had this daily affliction, he had to eat.
Rule: I think so in this day and age. But perhaps there needs to be a limit. I understand the desire to keep amateur golf just that, a game for those who don’t get paid to play, so it’s a slippery slope. But to reward someone who markets themselves well and allowing them to still play in and provide exposure to amateur events is a step in the right direction.
Quinn: Just gets it above the table. NIKE famously heavily financed Eldrick Woods and his nutty old man for years in a skate around the rules. A friend’s son is on an annual $60,000 free ride at a US college you’ve never heard of, and he gets free clubs and balls and gear, and lots of international travel. He hasn’t been an “amateur” since grade school. This just lets everyone in on how the game is played.
Mumford: It’s long past time. A friend of mine lost his amateur status 35 years ago for playing in a Calcutta. I know others who were forbidden to play provincial and national amateur events because they fell outside the sharp lines of pure amateur. No way were they pros, they just weren’t amateurs in the eyes of those that mattered. This new ruling aligns with reality.