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Yesterday was a momentous day for golf as the PGA Tour announced sweeping changes to their schedule with hugely increased prize funds and extra benefits for players, while Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy announced TGL – a technology and stadium-based golf league to be run in collaboration with the PGA Tour from January 2024.
What was announced?
For the 2023 season, the PGA Tour will increase the number of elevated events on the circuit by four (as yet un-named tournaments) to 12. These elevated events will carry a minimum purse of $20 million with The Players Championship carrying a purse of $25 million. The “top” players are committed to playing in these 12 events, plus a total of at least 20 PGA Tour events through the season. “Top players” are defined as those who finish in the top-20 in the Player Impact Program.
The pot for the Player Impact Program (PIP) will be doubled to $100 million to be divided between the 20 players (up from 10) who resonate most with fans and media. The metrics for determining the PIP rankings will be altered to represent fan awareness more effectively.
The launch of the Earnings Assurance Program means all Korn Ferry graduates, and those above in the Tour’s priority ranking who complete 15 Tour events, will earn no less than $500,000 per year. Those ranked lower will receive $5,000 in expenses when they miss a cut.
In addition, changes to qualification criteria for the Sentry Tournament of Champions mean all those who qualify for the previous season’s Tour Championship will be eligible.
Also yesterday, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy announced the launch of TGL – a tech focused, stadium-based golf league to be run in conjunction with the PGA Tour. It will kick off in January 2024 and will feature team matches held in a purpose-built venue. It will run on a Monday evening in a two-hour slot. The league will feature six, three-man teams competing on "a data-rich, virtual course" in a stadium setting with fans right alongside the action.
Why has this happened?
It would be easy to say this has happened because of LIV Golf and the threat it poses to the PGA Tour. It’s not quite as cut and dry as that. It’s probably fair to say the emergence and impact of LIV this year has accelerated the process, but this has all happened because golf has long required a refresh – a shake-up of the established annual competitive calendar. Discussions about how to make golf more appealing to more fans have been ongoing for years and the PGA Tour will have had plans in place to make changes for some time, they haven’t been made purely in response to LIV.
Jay Monahan confirmed that yesterday. When asked if making the changes sooner could have prevented LIV Golf starting up, he replied, “I don’t think there’s any scenario where they weren’t launching.”
In terms of the elevated events – A key objective is for the top players to compete against one another more frequently. The fans want to see the best take on the best on a regular basis.
In terms of TGL – It’s potentially an innovative new way to take golf to a new generation. There have been various attempts to shorten golf, to jazz it up in the style of T20 cricket. None yet have quite worked out. This could do it. A chance to see a full length, full round completed in two hours with fans right there to witness the action while showcasing the exceptional tech that’s available in golf. It sounds exciting.
What does it mean for the PGA Tour?
It clearly lifts the offering from the PGA Tour, making it more appealing to the top players in particular. More money, more big events, more chances to test themselves against the best in the world. It will certainly cause players who were considering jumping ship to LIV to think again.
It will also, inevitably, increase the two-tier nature of the PGA Tour. Those “top players” will be earning more – not only from increased prize funds and an increased PIP but also from increased sponsorship owing to the greater exposure they’ll experience. The lower ranked players will benefit from the Earnings Assurance Program, but how much will the journeyman lose out in sponsorship when their backers see them in even less limelight than they were before?
What does it mean for the DP World Tour?
It’s difficult to see any way Keith Pelley and those in charge at the DP World Tour can have found anything terribly positive to take from yesterday’s announcements. One hope is that one of the four elevated events yet to be named is an event co-sanctioned by the Tours under their “Strategic Alliance” – The Scottish Open perhaps…
Otherwise, it will just mean more of the DP World Tour’s top players spending more time in the USA. If the best of the best are committed to 20 events on the PGA Tour, and they likely only play 25-28 or so events per season, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for them to compete in the Cazoo Classic or Czech Masters.
What does it mean for LIV Golf?
The players who made the move to LIV did so for more money from fewer events. That’s basically what the PGA Tour is now offering. There will be some on the renegade circuit who will think they should have looked a little harder before leaping.
Will players be encouraged to come back to the PGA Tour? Unlikely for now as they are thought to be tied into multi-year contracts with LIV. And Jay Monahan was fairly unequivocal in saying they wouldn’t be welcomed back – effectively the sentiment was… They’ve made their bed…
LIV’s set-up is designed to shake things up and appeal to a different, younger fan-base. The PGA Tour’s response, together with Tiger and Rory’s venture also has that objective. It could certainly dent LIV’s unique offering.
What does it mean for fans?
It means we, above anyone else, can have our massive golfing cake and eat it. As of next year, there will be an extravaganza of golf for us to watch and compare notes on. On a near weekly basis, we’ll be able to see the best men in the world go head to head, be it in a Major, an elevated PGA Tour event or a LIV Golf league competition. And from 2024, we’ll have TGL too.
And that’s just the men’s game – add in women’s, seniors and amateur golf and there’ll be an embarrassment of exciting golf for fans to pick and choose from. It will be very interesting to see what gets the most attention.
The importance of The Open or The Masters Tournament won’t be diminished by Tiger taking on Rory in a stadium on a Monday night, just as The Ashes at Lords hasn’t been diminished by IPL cricket. There’s room for different formats that appeal to different fans.
And what, overall, does it mean for golf?
Taking all of the above into consideration, yesterday’s announcements can only be good for golf. More events, more exposure, more competition not only between players but also between rival leagues will drive more to get their eyeballs on the sport and, hopefully, more to play it.
There’s no doubt the next few years might be a little bumpy with golf in the law courts, discord between players and disputes between those with a vested interest in the rival factions. But change can’t happen without a little disruption and, when the dust has settled, we should see a more dynamic, more exciting and impactful spectrum of professional golf that will surely have the, so often quoted, desired effect of “growing the game.”
Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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