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  • Alistair Tait

Is Professional Golf About To Get Ugly?

Looks like a select few are about to get extremely rich over the next few years from this game of golf. Unfortunately, not all will be golfers, at least if Paul McGinley (above) is correct. Quite a few lawyers seem set to strike gold with the professional game about to go through the mother of all legal battles that could make the 1999 Ryder Cup appear like a genteel garden party.

As 2014 European Ryder Cup captain and Euro Tour board member McGinley told The Mail golf correspondent Derek Lawrenson regarding the proposed new Super League, or Premier Golf League – or maybe it’ll just be called the Screw the PGA Tour League – buying the Asian Tour, legal battles will probably ensue if players are lured to the new circuit.

“We're resigned to that kind of thing happening and the lawyers being involved," McGinley said. “If the Saudi event becomes part of the Asian Tour, will Jay Monahan (CEO of the PGA Tour) give the defending champion Dustin Johnson a release to get his $2million (£1.4m) appearance fee, or Keith Pelley (CEO of the European Tour) grant releases for the leading Europeans to play? That's the path we're on, sadly.”

It is sad golf has come to this sorry state. Or perhaps it was simply inevitable since money and sport don’t often mix. The war of words has already started. Note McGinley’s description of those behind the new league.

“We've spoken to the Saudis on a number of occasions. We would love them to continue to be part of our tour but they see it a different way. They think golf is stale and want to come in as disrupters and change the whole DNA of the game.”

“Disrupters?” Really? Here are a few thoughts: maybe the Saudis are right? The game at the top level is stale with its endless stream of 72-hole stroke play tournaments. As the intense debate over the Olympic golf format proved, many fans want something different to the moribund status quo.

As for the term “disrupters", by luring the game’s best players to the United States, the PGA Tour has disrupted every other professional circuit around the world. It’s been quite happy to accept Europe, Asia, Australia, and Japan’s best for years without a thought for what it’s done to other circuits. The European Tour is living proof of that. Our best players now call America home. Our young stars are dying to join them. Oh, and for decades the PGA Tour has been quite happy to grant players releases to play other tours. Now all of a sudden…

For years golf has simply shrugged the above dynamic off as an example of Darwinian survival of the fittest. Now that there appears to be an opponent looking fitter, stronger and, more importantly, has much more cash, the PGA Tour turns into more of a trade union than a laissez-faire, capitalist business and hovers the threat of legal action over its members if they dare play in the new league. So much for professional golfers being independent contractors.

“The Saudi lawyers reckon the PGA Tour can't stop the players from joining and still being members but Jay is adamant that he can,' McGinley told The Mail. "Unfortunately, it's looking like we'll end up with a massive legal case."

I’d love to see the PGA Tour or European Tour win that legal case, given the precedent of PGA Tour and European Tour members playing around the world all the way back to when Arnold Palmer and other top stars stuffed their pockets full of appearance cash on an annual basis. Are the tours really going to tell young, up-and-coming stars they can't take appearance money from certain tournaments when the practice has been rife for decades?

As I’ve asked previously, if the PGA Tour and strategic alliance partner the European Tour are confident of their products, why not say 'bring it on' without resorting to restrictive practices?

Once again, I’m not a fan of the Saudi regime. Its repressive practices are well documented without me spelling them out. Nor do I have anything to do with those backing the proposed new league. I’m simply looking at this from a purely neutral perspective. And from that perspective I see something coming down the line that looks ugly and, yes, extremely disruptive to the game of golf.

How sad that the professional game has reached this state.

#JustSaying: “Winning prizes is most important, for playing golf is my living; but if I were to think only of the money and worry about not winning, I think I should climb up the wall.” Peter Alliss

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1 Comment

Madeline Morgan
Madeline Morgan
Aug 12, 2021

When reading something like Lawrenson's piece I'm tempted to simply write off the latest political and economic machinations of professional golf as just another business story involving mergers and acquisitions, about as appealing to me as dental work. But as much as I'd love to do that, I can't, at least not completely. Because the professional game, in all its self-important glory, has invaded every corner of the terrain on which many golfers are forced to play. $500 drivers, $250 green fees, excruciatingly slow play, huge, meticulously manicured courses with absurdly fast greens, course architecture that apparently believes fake waterfalls are a valid substitute for imaginative design, all these abominations can be traced in large part to the influence…

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