More than 25 years after Greg Norman tried to start a world tour, he announced Friday he will be the CEO of a new company that will start by adding 10 tournaments on the Asian Tour over the next 10 years that will add $200 million in playing opportunities and prize money.
A majority of the funding for LIV Golf Investments comes from the Public Investment Fund, the investing arm of Saudi Arabia chaired by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Still to be determined is whether this was the first step toward rumblings of a Saudi-backed “super league,” in which top players are offered as much as $50 million to be part of a team concept. Various iterations of the team concept have been trying to gain traction for nearly a decade, picking up momentum in the last two years.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has made it clear to his players that anyone who joins will no longer be part of the PGA Tour.
“This is only the beginning,” Norman said in a release, adding the company has secured a major capital commitment to be used to create “additive new opportunities” around the world.
“We will be a cooperative and respectful supporter of the game at every level, and today’s announcement alongside the Asian Tour is the first example of that,” he said.
Cho Minn Thant, the commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour, called it the “single biggest development” in the tour’s history.
The Saudi International already is part of the Asian Tour after Golf Saudi, which operates the tournament, signed a 10-year partnership with the tour last month.
Dustin Johnson is the defending champion and a two-time winner in its three years while it was part of the European Tour schedule. Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson are among those who have played.
They have faced criticism for supporting golf in a country with a poor human rights record. The first Saudi International in 2019 was played just months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered after writing critically of bin Salman. A U.S. intelligence report determined earlier this year bin Salman approved of the killing.
Norman said to ESPN and Golf.com, two of the six media outlets invited to a meeting in New York this week, “I am pleased that the investor base is 100 percent commercially driven by the opportunity to improve golf for all involved. I am happy to partner with this group of investors to bring the significant resources to bear that are necessary for the fundamental changes required for the greater good of the sport.”
The Associated Press was not among those invited to take part.
Norman, a two-time British Open champion who occupied the No. 1 ranking longer than anyone until Tiger Woods came along, was at the peak of his game in 1994 when he tried to create a world tour for the elite players. He did not have enough players on board when it was quashed by then-PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
Shortly thereafter, Finchem announced the World Golf Championships, limited fields for players from the world ranking or from the six main tours around the world. Now, only two WGCs remain active. (The China Golf Association has canceled the HSBC Champions the last two years because of the pandemic).
The Asian Tour has been shut down since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, with plans to resume next month.
Norman said the Saudi International is not part of the 10 new tournaments planned, but that the new events would count toward the Order of Merit on the Asian Tour.
The series is to start in 2022.
The release was lacking details such as when and where the tournaments would be played, or how they would be televised around the world. Also unclear was how much of the $200 million infusion would be split among prize money and guaranteed fees.
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