The head of the Premier Golf League said his group is not swayed by Hall of Famer Greg Norman joining another entity seeking to start a different circuit that would attract top players in small-field events for large monetary guarantees.
But Andy Gardiner told ESPN that his original plan of 48-player, 12-team, 54-hole events is still in play, with a twist: coming under the umbrella of the PGA Tour.
Gardiner, the CEO of the Premier Golf League based in London, said in an interview the idea would potentially enhance all players, not just those who play as part of the PGL, because of the financial backing the PGL can provide.
“It’s not destructive” Gardiner said. “It’s just a division created under them. We call it co-sanctioning. And the PGA Tour has shown there is value in the alternative fields.”
The PGL, which has been lurking behind the scenes for the better part of seven years, is under the banner of the World Golf Group. Several members of its team have now branched out to join Norman’s endeavor.
Last week, Norman was announced as the CEO of Liv Golf Investments and said he will be the commissioner of a new league that has yet to be named. The concepts appear to be similar in that there are small fields, 54 holes, no cuts and shotgun starts for the first two rounds, as well as a team element.
Liv Golf Investments is looking to start as early as 2022, while the PGL would wait a year. Gardiner’s plan is probably not one that will be accepted easily by PGA Tour leadership, including commissioner Jay Monahan.
In essence, it would see the 18 PGL events take the place of existing tournaments on the schedule, most likely 10 in the United States that might be played at current venues and run by the current staff. They would be rebranded as PGL events, with $20 million purses — $4 million going to the winner and scaling down to $150,000 for last place each week. There would also be a team component each week — with the winning team splitting $1 million — and a season-ending team championship.
Gardiner said he sent a proposal to the PGA Tour and has not gotten a response. He acknowledges getting in the door to speak is an initial challenge.
“It’s difficult for them to engage with us because this is an innovation that applies to 250 voting members of PGA Tour Inc. and they also run five other tours,” Gardiner said in reference to the Korn Ferry Tour, the MacKenzie Tour, the PGA Tour Champions, PGA Tour Latino America and PGA Tour China. “They have a responsibility to probably 1,500 other guys plus whatever they’ve undertaken with European Tour members (as part of a collaboration). So I can see it being difficult.
“I do believe a lot of the apprehension could overcome if we are able to get around the table. I think a nudge from the membership would probably enable us to.”
Gardiner and his rivals at Liv Golf Investments have spoken with dozens of players and agents to brief them on their various plans.
While Norman has yet to unveil the full scope of his endeavor, it is clear that both would greatly enrich those who take part. The purses are immense, as are the guaranteed payouts for last place. Both promise some sort of equity stake in “teams” or guaranteed bonuses to sign on. It appears both would have some formula for advancing to the League and relegating; the Liv Golf group said as much with its announcement last week that it would be investing $200 million in the Asian Tour, which would become the vehicle for World Golf Ranking sanctioning.
The PGL is proposing some pretty significant changes to the PGA Tour’s model, including amending its non-profit status and giving 50% ownership in the league to the Tour. The exact amount of revenue the players derive from the Tour now is not known, but believed to be less than 30%.
In addition, the PGL would commit 10% to the PGA Tour staff, broadcast partners, Korn Ferry Tour and other agencies involved, with another 10% going to a foundation meant to grow the amateur game. The remaining 30% would be owned by the World Golf Group. The estimated value of the PGA Tour by 2029 would be $5 billion, Gardiner projected.
Other aspects would include the possibility of a 13th team picked by fans, with “wild card” selections granted to PGA Tour players to fill out rosters.
Gardiner said that the large sums of charitable dollars raised by the various tournaments would be guaranteed instead of dependent on the non-profit model that is employed.
The PGA Tour has history and tradition on its side. It has a model that saw 67 players earn more than $2 million in official prize money in the recently-completed season, along with FedEx Cup bonuses, a pension, health benefits and various other perks.
One thing it does not have, however, is guaranteed pay. You earn what you make, except for a few elite events. And a number of players, according to Gardiner and Norman, have questioned if the stars are actually undercompensated.
One player agent who wished to remain anonymous outlined the situation by suggesting that players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau, among others, are undercompensated in relation to what they bring each week.
They help sell television rights deals, corporate hospitality and tickets that allow for purse increases and bigger FedEx Cup bonuses.
And yet, whenever any of those players tees off on a Thursday, they are guaranteed zero while the 100th guy in the standings who might not have sold a single ticket stands to make a tidy sum if he performs.
The PGA Tour has sought to enhance its value to players by implementing a Player Incentive Program that will divide $40 million among the top 10 players as judged by various aspects such as their social media impact.
It is raising purses across the board this season, including the Players Championship, which go to $20 million. And it is granting a $50,000 stipend to all players who compete in a minimum of 15 events.
“It’s really a rebalancing as we see it,” Gardiner said. “There is no loss of income potential for those who remain (on the PGA Tour). We see them playing approximately 32 events for $140 million in prize money (not including the major championships and if you take out the PGL events) because there is real value in the rest of the field. There is a lot of differing qualify of golf around the U.S. and the rest of the world.”