Opinion: Why LIV Golf CAN Grow The Game

In this article, Neil Tappin argues that, despite the controversy, he can see a way in which LIV Golf CAN grow the game

Why LIV Golf CAN Grow The Game
(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the biggest debates swarming around the breakaway, Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series is whether this new version of professional tournament golf is the secret to growing the game. The day before the Open Championship started, R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers waded in with some forceful words on the subject. 

“I would also like to say that in my opinion the continued commentary that this is about growing the game is just not credible and if anything, is harming the perception of our sport which we are working so hard to improve,” said Slumbers in a statement at the start of his pre-tournament press conference. 

“We believe the game needs to focus on increasing participation, achieving greater diversity, and making sure that golf is truly open to all, rather than this narrow debate involving a small number of players.” 

“As importantly, it detracts from what makes golf, as Arnold Palmer stated, the greatest sport that mankind ever invented. Golf is far more than just professional golf, and we should all remember that.”

VIDEO: What Is LIV Golf?

From the money to the size of the field, there are many aspects to the new LIV Golf proposition that are challenging the status quo. I can understand how some of these elements are creating a narrative that might be harming the perception of the game. What’s more, you get the feeling there’s plenty more twists and turns to come. 

Of course, we all have an opinion and it’s entirely possible that you might not like certain elements of the proposal but be open to others. I’d certainly fall into that camp. Given that, with only two events played, it’s still very much in its infancy, it seems to me a little too early to write off its growing-the-game credentials as ‘not credible’. Let me explain.

One of the biggest problems the current 72-hole format has is that as you reach the denouement, there are fewer golfers on the course and naturally less is happening. A combination of ad breaks and commentator conversation are left to fill frequent breaks in play. During the majors, where the storylines are inevitably more compelling as the main protagonists attempt to etch their names into the history of the game, these breaks are less likely to reduce engagement. But what about regular tour events? I know from personal experience how hard it can be to maintain interest to the end. 

Those behind the LIV Golf format have at least tried to address this issue. The individual and the team format means that you have two separate elements reaching their crescendos simultaneously. With the whole field on the course throughout, there should always be something to watch and the temptation to grab your phone and look at something else will be reduced.

That leads me specifically to the team event. At the moment, the team names, logos and player alliances all feel a little strained. But don’t forget we are only two events in. As more LIV Golf events take place, team storylines will surely emerge. I can see a world in which players are grouped together in a way that makes sense and creates both rivalries and alliances. 

As someone with a sports-mad 8-year-old son, who everyday is becoming more interested in elite-level competition, I can see how these team interactions as well as the colourful logos and evocative names would spark interest. That this aspect of the proposition, along with the condensed format, might help grow the game seems entirely plausible.

At this point it’s worth touching on what it means to grow the sport - are we talking an increase in engagement with the professional game or more players treading the fairways of courses around the world? To my mind, these are linked. If we can better showcase what the game has to offer, especially to a younger audience, we stand a better chance of getting them onto the course. The big question is, in a world of ever-present smartphones and shortened attention spans, is the current 72-hole model the best way to showcase what the game has to offer? This is a question many of us have been asking for years.

LIV Golf has come to the table with a condensed version of the sport, added some extra colour and is attempting to create new storylines (beyond the controversial ones that are dominating the discourse). It is also being shown for free on YouTube, a viewing platform with which many youngsters are much more familiar. Whether or not this free-to-air approach continues in the long term, the product as a whole is designed to better suit modern life. To me, this feels like a natural, sensible evolution for golf that may well help it to remain relevant for years to come. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, there are many facets of the new LIV Golf Invitational Series. The fragmentation of the game and the pathway to the proposed peak are both issues that may or may not get resolved. However, there are parts of the proposition, that to my mind at least, have the potential to improve engagement. 

The good news is that, ultimately, it will be the fans who decide whether the LIV Golf Series succeeds. If the format doesn’t work, and the public don’t watch, the money will surely dry up. If however, it manages to capture the attention of sports fans generally and golf fans more specifically, I believe there is reason to think it will grow the game.

Neil Tappin

In July 2023, Neil became just the 9th editor in Golf Monthly's 112-year history. Originally working with the best coaches in the UK to produce instruction content, he has also presented many Golf Monthly videos looking at all areas of the game from Tour player interviews to the rules of golf. 

Throughout his time with the brand he has also covered equipment launches that date back well over a decade. He clearly remembers the launch of the Callaway and Nike square drivers as well as the white TaylorMade driver families, such as the RocketBallz! If you take a look at the Golf Monthly YouTube channel, you'll see his equipment videos dating back over a decade! He has also conducted 'What's In The Bag' interviews with many of the game's best players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Over the years, Neil has tested a vast array of products in each category and at drastically different price-points. 

Neil is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus Fairway Wood: Titleist TSR2 Hybrid: Titleist TS3 Irons (4-9): Mizuno JPX 919 Forged Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM7 46˚, 50˚, 54˚, 60˚ Putter: Odyssey Triple Track Ten Ball: Titleist Pro V1X