How golf’s warring factions finally made a peace deal

A year ago, US PGA Tour chief Jay Monahan blasted rival LIV, funded by breakaway Saudi Arabia, for “trying to buy the game of golf”, citing 9/11 and praising players loyal to the US circuit for avoiding the “moral” . ambiguity”.

Now the rift that threatened the global game appears to have healed after a stunning turnaround that saw LIV, the PGA Tour and the European-based DP World Tour come under a single umbrella showering billions of dollars. Saudi wealth.

The shock deal – with golfers and key institutions on all sides kept in the dark until the eleventh hour – has left observers wondering how the game’s bitterly warring factions will patch up their differences – and what the consequences will be inside and outside the sport.

“It’s the march of globalization,” said golf historian and course design critic Bradley Klein. “Global capital has extended into professional golf, and we’re seeing a huge infusion of capital swirling around and events being staged on a global scale.”

The talks with Yasir al-Rumayyan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, were led by Jimmy Dunne, the Wall Street businessman and chairman of the ultra-exclusive Seminole Golf Club in Palm Beach, and Ed Herlihy, a member of the PGA Tour’s policy board. and an attorney at Wachtell in Lipton.

Dunne called Rumayyan earlier this year and the two agreed to meet.

“We spent two days in London and, of course, played a round of golf,” Rumayyan told the Financial Times. “And should I tell you . . . lost.”

Jimmy Dunne, the Wall Street businessman and chairman of the ultra-exclusive Seminole Golf Club in Palm Beach, led the talks with the Saudis © Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

The combination was then discreetly hashed out at meetings around the world – most recently in San Francisco last week – between tour delegates, including Dunne, Herlihy and occasionally Monahan, and PIF representatives, including Wall Street rainmaker Michael Klein, British financier Amanda Staveley . and Rumayyan.

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The focus quickly shifted from a narrow legal settlement between the Saudis and the PGA Tour to a more ambitious commercial deal that would create a global golf empire, according to a person close to the negotiations.

A top amateur golfer and member of several exclusive clubs, Dunne is one of the game’s biggest broadcasters and is close friends with top professionals, including Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy, who is one of LIV’s main opposition figures.

But after the rift attracted 9/11 victims’ groups outraged by what they see as “sportswashing” the nation, where many of the al-Qaida attackers came from, some expressed surprise at the move by a banker who lost dozens of victims. his colleagues at Sandler O’Neill’s company in the horror.

“Dunne’s partners were massacred on 9/11. He was out playing golf,” said another investment banker who is actively involved in the game. “Given the history, it’s remarkable that he went into the same room with these guys.”

While the PGA and LIV tours have publicly said they are comfortable in the game’s rift, the legal action taken during the year-long feud has made their mutual disdain clear.

PGA Tour executive Jay Monahan to be CEO of new umbrella group © Seth Wenig/AP

In a federal antitrust lawsuit filed last year by rebellious LIV players banned by the PGA Tour, LIV alleged that the American group’s “monopoly power . . . allowed him to preside over the demise of golf itself by failing to innovate and expand the game’s appeal and bring the game into the 21st century”.

The PGA Tour wrote in a counterclaim that LIV “conducted a campaign to pay astronomical sums of money to LIV players to induce them to violate their contracts with the Tour to use LIV players and golf for the recent sports laundering.” A Story of Saudi Atrocities and Advancement of PIF Vision 2030 Initiatives”.

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But cracks began to show in the strategy of both sides. LIV failed to secure a major network television contract in the United States. And the tour, dotted with a small number of competitors and shortened tournaments, was unable to earn official ranking points for its players, so many LIV golfers had little or no access to the four major tournaments, considered the top of the game, which are organized by other governments. bodies.

Meanwhile, members of the PGA Tour worried about its ability to continue to attract strong fields and sponsors throughout the tournament calendar. And while Monahan argued that the PGA Tour remained golf’s toughest test, LIV rebel Brooks Koepka was runner-up and champion at The Masters and the PGA Championship, the first two majors of the year.

“It was inevitable,” said the longtime American golfer and businessman. “PGA Tour players want the money that LIV threw at them. Once they saw how beloved Koepka remained at The Masters, then a few weeks ago when he won the PGA, it was all over.”

A person involved in the civil dispute said the litigation likely pushed the parties toward settling the dispute.

The federal court said Rumayyan could not claim “sovereign immunity” — a legal principle designed to keep foreign governments out of nasty court battles — to avoid the filings sought by the PGA Tour. The precedent of Saudi officials being wiretapped could have changed the kingdom’s broader business in America.

Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy was head of opposition at LIV © Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press/AP

Meanwhile, the American tour needed the remaining players to fund a battle with no clear end in sight.

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“The PGA Tour was facing a legal battle that, with all the appeals, could take years,” said a person involved in the dispute, adding: “It has been and will continue to be a financial burden. So now they have to stop paying their trial lawyers.”

While the format of men’s golf is still to be decided, Saudi Arabia is with the government, despite the PGA Tour saying it will continue to control its tournaments and the board of directors of the as-yet-unnamed umbrella organization.

PIF will be an anchor investor in the umbrella organization, with a minority stake of up to 49 percent, accompanied by more capital investment and the right to block new potential investors.

Monahan, who will become CEO of the new umbrella group under Rumayyan’s chairmanship, has faced accusations of hypocrisy from those most vehemently opposed to the LIV Tour.

“It’s terrible to wake up today and see this news,” said Terry Strada, president of 9/11 Families United. “This is treason. Jay Monahan is just a sellout.”

Other human rights activists also slammed the deal.

“This is the worst face of sports washing,” tweeted Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

But among golfers who had previously resisted the opulence of the breakaway tour, there was a palpable sense of resignation.

“I still hate LIV,” McIlroy said Wednesday. But he acknowledged that the merger is “ultimately good for golf.”