The PGA Tour has agreed to merge with its Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf.
The shock announcement comes after a year of unprecedented disruption in the men’s professional game following the launch of the LIV Golf circuit.
The two tours signed an agreement that would combine the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s commercial businesses and rights into a new, yet-to-be-named for-profit company. The agreement includes the DP World Tour, also known as the European PGA Tour.
The rival circuit launched in 2022 and has lured a number of big-name players from the PGA Tour, including Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka.
The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to improve its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
In a statement, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said: “After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love.
“This transformational partnership recognises the immeasurable strength of the PGA TOUR’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model and combines with it the DP World Tour and LIV – including the team golf concept – to create an organisation that will benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.”
As part of the deal, the sides are dropping all lawsuits against each other.
It is unclear what form the LIV Golf League would take in 2024.
In response to the news, Mickelson, who had led prominent players away from the PGA Tour to help form LIV, tweeted: “Awesome day today”.
‘A momentous day’
DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said: “This is a momentous day. We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also to have the opportunity to build on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA Tour.”
Reports first emerged of plans for a rival league to the PGA Tour as far back as 2019, but it was only in late 2021 that the proposal truly began to take shape. LIV Golf Investments was formed, with PIF – the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia – its majority shareholder.
An anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour was originally filed last August by 11 golfers before being taken over by LIV Golf. It was due to be heard in 2024.
It’s a sensational sports truce and now it will be the PGA helping the Saudis launder their reputation
It’s a sensational sports truce with significance beyond sport – further asserting Saudi wealth, status and soft power.
When LIV Golf split the world of golf by launching a rebel series last year, the established PGA Tour of America’s moral outrage couldn’t have been clearer.
The PGA claimed the Saudi sovereign wealth fund was using the “sport of golf to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses”.
Hundreds of millions of pounds in signing on fees and prize money enticed stars, including former world No 1 Englishman Lee Westwood and six-time major winner Phil Mickelson, who were banished from the PGA for defecting.
Now it will be the PGA helping the Saudis launder their reputation through golf – announcing a merger by LIV that looks like a Saudi takeover.
In April, the DP World Tour won its legal battle against 12 LIV players who committed “serious breaches” of the Tour’s code of behaviour by playing in LIV Golf events without permission.
The subsequent increased fines and suspensions prompted Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson to resign their memberships and become ineligible for the Ryder Cup.
Those players could now return to the fold, with the tours pledging to establish a “fair and objective process” for players to re-apply for membership after the end of this season.
The decision to merge comes less than two weeks before the third major championship of the men’s golf season, the US Open.