It’s been a busy week in the world of golf and most of the news is off the course. With high profile departures at the top of both The R&A and the DP World Tour (not to mention the New England Patriots), another sponsor leaving the PGA Tour, Tiger and Nike parting ways and changes to the Pebble Beach Pro Am that will see the end of Bill Murray, golf will have some decidedly new looks in 2024. To top it off, Rory McIlroy made some comments about a New World Tour that sounded a lot like Greg Norman circa 1995.
Rory’s World Tour
In an interview this past week with John Huggan of Golf Digest, Rory McIlroy outlined his dream tour which included 22 events for the top 70-100 players, a strong base of tournaments in America, money from the PIF, expanded purses, outreach to Australia, South Africa, Japan and Singapore and maybe a fifth major. Oh, and there’s room for LIV team events too. Apart from the LIV team thing that hadn’t been invented yet, it sounds to me a lot like Greg Norman’s original World Tour concept from the mid 90s.
I liked Norman’s idea then and I like Rory’s concept now but to make it happen, a lot of organizations would have to come together, which also means some of them would have to give up control. Does anybody see that happening?
Rory’s dream tour includes expansion to other countries. Of course, the European and Asian Tours do this already and to some extent LIV Golf does too by staging events in Australia, Singapore, Mexico, Hong Kong and Spain. The fans in those countries certainly love having the international players and strongly support the events. It’s too early to know how everything will shake out in the framework agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf but it seems to me that many outside of Ponte Vedra would welcome fewer American events and more international tournaments.
Perhaps the majors could help in this regard. Let’s say the Masters added five more invitations for the winners of the French, Spanish, Canadian, South African and Australian Opens. Instead of doling out obscene PIP money, the PGA Tour could kick in some of that new-found wealth to bump the purses in those national opens. Add in FedEx Cup points and other applicable Tour points and players would have a huge incentive to play: a chance at Augusta, a national championship, a jump up the standings on their home tour and a big payday. It’s a win for fans and a huge step towards a realistic global tour. The other majors could do the same and eventually include even more national champions.
I’ve long been a fan of national championships and thinks it’s terrible that many have fallen off the radar due to lack of funding or the silly politics of various golf tours. These are legacy events and deserve better. At the end of a career, I suspect most players would take greater pride in winning the French or Australian Open than another Honda, Farmers or John Deere.
The late great Roberto Di Vicenzo currently holds the record for most different national championships at 15, many of which he won multiple times. I don’t think that record is ever going to be broken but it would be nice if some of the world’s best players at least had some incentive to give it a thought.
Bye Bye Bill
The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am returns with a new look in a few weeks (Feb 1-4) and it’s safe to say some golf fans will be disappointed. The tournament is one of the new Signature events on the PGA Tour (elevated, designated, limited field, no cut, big money) and because of the limited field aspect, the number of pro-am teams has been cut to 80.
The ams will play just two rounds (Thursday and Friday) and the tournament has been reduced to just two courses (Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill). The weekend is reserved for the pros only.
As the field of pros gets whittled to 80, so too does the mixed bag of actors, musicians and dubious celebrities. Gone are Bill Murray and Ray Romano. In their place, expect to see more athletes. The smaller field has consequences for the corporate honchos that fill out the pro-am teams too. Event organizers have pledged that their charitable donations won’t be less than previous years, so the cost of playing has jumped from $38,000 to $70,000.
As much as I won’t miss Ray Romano and his dreadful golf swing, the old pro-am format was a fun break from the weekly diet of cookie cutter events. On the plus side, we’ll get to see the best players in the world at Pebble Beach. That’s always good. It just ain’t the Crosby Clambake anymore.
The announcement that DP World Tour Commissioner and CEO Keith Pelley is departing to take a job as CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment was a bit of a shocker. Pelley is in the midst of negotiating the framework agreement with the PGA Tour and the Saudi PIF. And MLSE has been without a CEO for more than a year, so it didn’t seem like they were in a hurry to fill the spot.
Pelley says he’s staying put until April 2nd and hopes the framework deal will be done by then. Various articles commenting on his departure have generally given the Commissioner high marks for his eight years on the job and it’s hard to argue with that. The European Tour was in a tough spot when he took over in 2015 and he stabilized it financially and got it through COVID.
I never liked the deal he signed with the PGA Tour that called for his 10 best players to leave every year but there’s no doubt the DP World Tour is better than it was.
As for his role with MLSE, I’m not sure what he can do. He can’t dunk and his netminding skills are dubious. The corporation already makes gobs of money, so if he’s just minding the mint, we shouldn’t expect to hear much from him anymore. Alternatively, if he’s one of those CEOs committed to a winning tradition, maybe a shake-up in the executive suite is on the agenda for spring, just about the time the Leafs and Raptors head for the golf course.
Is Pelley the answer to 57 years of Leaf frustration? Not sure. Hope so. Stay tuned!