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The much speculated and now highly possible Saudi-backed super league would have multiple ramifications for golf and the amateur game could feel the effects. Rumours are rife that the breakaway league is likely, with suggestions that players are being tempted with a share of a $1.5 billion pot. At the very top level, players may have to choose between the main Tours and the super league, leading to a possible rift in the professional game. But what about the potential effects on the amateur game?
Currently, the pathways to top level golf through the amateur game are well established. Talented youngsters will possibly go through tertiary education, likely a U.S. College, while building their playing and competitive skills by competing in top amateur events like The Amateur Championship, the Women’s Amateur, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur. These and many other high-profile amateur events around the world provide testing grounds for young stars.
The governing bodies – The R&A, the USGA and the Masters Tournament have worked incredibly hard over recent years to support and grow the elite amateur game on an international level. The creation of the Asia Pacific Amateur and Latin America Amateur Championships have seen alumni including defending Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and the events have done a huge amount to increase golfing participation in developing regions.
A large percentage of today’s top players have enjoyed success in the amateur ranks where they have learned whether they have the necessary skills to compete at the highest level. The possible Saudi-backed league could have a major impact on the established route to the top via the elite amateur circuit.
Although not explicit, we might deduce that golf’s governing bodies are not exactly “on-side” with a proposed super-league. The fact The R&A removed its Open exemption for the Asian Tour Order of Merit winner in December might be a hint at that. (LIV Golf Investments, the fund that’s behind the proposed rival tour invested $300 million into the Asian Tour.)
As the USGA, The R&A and the Masters Tournament are the custodians of the amateur game, their response if the Saudi-backed league is announced would have a tremendous impact on golf’s future. If they don’t back it, then young amateur golfers will be faced with a choice of routes as they plan a transition to the paid ranks – traditional or new and shiny. If they select the new and shiny super-league as their eventual golfing ambition, might they be less inclined to follow the traditional route of Amateur Championships, Walker Cups, invites to Majors for big amateur wins etc? And, if it gets the cold shoulder, might the possible super-league create its own training ground for young players, incentivising them to turn away from the traditional amateur path? As a number of the top-players have alluded to in response to the rumoured league – money talks.
The speculated Saudi-backed super league would undoubtedly create divisions in top-level golf that would run right down to the youngest elite players. If it goes ahead, and the rifts are formed, then young amateur players will choose a side – Stick with the old guard, or follow the glittering new cavalcade… No doubt, some will be tempted by the latter.
As mentioned above, The R&A, USGA and the Masters Tournament have invested heavily in growing golf via the amateur game around the world. Huge time and resource have gone into creating the infrastructure to facilitate golfing development in younger golfing regions like Asia and Latin America.
A possible Saudi-backed super league would certainly grab attention and quite likely take golf to a new audience. Working in conjunction with those efforts already undertaken by the governing bodies, more people could be inspired to take up golf, growing the game… An objective that all are aiming for.
But the newcomers would have an outlook on golf shaped by that which has drawn them in – Think T20 cricket versus the Test Match. The expectation would be different to the traditional golfing image – youngsters aspiring to win a three-hole shootout rather than grinding out 18-holes in level par. At a grassroots level, the sport would adapt to cater for a new generation of fans. Cricket made it work and golf could too. Golf’s governing bodies will continue to invest in grassroots amateur golf but may have to accept that, if things do change, some of the players they support will eye different golfing heights to those that are currently scalable.
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He 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 history section of "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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