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  • Alistair Tait

Short on detail, big on vision

I’d love to buy into Keith Pelley’s rosy vision of the strategic alliance between the European Tour PGA Tour announced yesterday. The cynic in me says there’s more to this story than Pelley was willing to give out yesterday when talking to journalists.

Actually, Pelley didn’t give out anything. They say the devil is in the detail? Journalists had a devil of a time getting even an iota of detail out of the Canadian in a 30-minute Q&A.

You’d have thought after four and a half years of talking to PGA Tour counterpart Jay Monahan they’d have laid out some basic plans of where this strategic alliance was going to take the game. No. Just airy-fairy stuff cobbled together over 72 hours. Why the rush?

“You might ask, why now?” Pelley acknowledged. “Jay and I have been talking about working closer together for the last four and a half years. I've always said golf is very fractioned with four major championships and two professional organisations. This was just a moment in time when everything aligned.”

Greg Norman was no doubt smiling in his Florida mansion. The Great White Shark advocated a world golf tour 25 years ago and was shot down for it. Now we’re on the brink of one.

Maybe that's why this hastily arranged press conference took place during America’s biggest public holiday. That’s part of the reason I’m cynical. This is the sort of thing you’d expect the tour to announce at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai two weeks from now, the final event of the European season. Not during America’s biggest holiday period.

Was the announcement made to head off a move by the upstart Premier Golf League? Pelley did admit the Raine Group, backed by Saudi Arabian money, had made a pitch to the European Tour. Pelley said:

“Raine Capital presented a very compelling offer to take the European Tour to another level but in a different direction. Ultimately, we felt partnering with the PGA TOUR was the best option for our members and for global golf.”

Don’t think this is the end of the Saudi’s ambition to get into golf in a big way. You only have to consider the eye-watering appearance fees they’re paying the game’s biggest stars to play in February’s Saudi International. Don’t think new Masters champion Dustin Johnson is getting on his private jet for anything less than a healthy seven-figure sum. Ditto for Phil Mickelson and new U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau. Throw in money for Shane Lowry, Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and enough cash to make Paul Casey reverse his previous principled stance of not playing in Saudi Arabia and you know the Sheikhs in Riyadh are serious about getting into golf. They’ve made a significant investment in the Ladies European Tour, too. They have very deep pockets and will not go quietly into that good night even if others are predicting the PGL’s death.

The state of the European Tour’s bank account is one mooted theory for his new alliance. Many see the PGA Tour’s financial investment in European Tour Productions as a way of the Euro Tour acquiring much needed cash. That move means Monahan takes a seat on the European Tour Board of directors. There is no reciprocal seat for Pelley on the PGA Tour Board.

While the PGA Tour has also taken a financial hit because of Covid, it had deeper coffers than the European circuit to survive the enforced break. Pelley has had to dip into European Tour reserves to scramble a schedule. He and the Tour have done a great job, but many feel it’s a scramble that’s led to the financial abyss. Hence the partnership. Pelley was having none of that. He said:

“We are categorically not in financial difficulties. That is simply wrong. We are in robust financial health with a very strong balance sheet, strongest ever, and a strong support of networks of partners.”

“Very strong balance sheet, strongest ever?” Really? Not sure many are buying that statement when the Tour’s basically led a hand to mouth existence for so many years. Pelley simply says this move was made for altruistic reasons.

“It's in the best interests of both tours, for our players, for our golf fans, and for global professional golf.”
“We will work to collaborate on a global golf schedule, both in terms of prize funds and playing opportunities for our respective memberships and also in the commercial realm across the globe.”

And those opportunities are? Good question. Will this global schedule be modelled on tennis's ATP Tour? Another good question. Pelley says we’ll have to wait and see.

“The detail is still to be worked out. We have been talking and there are some concepts that we have discussed with some of our current members.”

Seriously, they’ve been talking for four and a half years and “the detail is still to be worked out?” "Concepts?"

“We've never really talked about the ATP as a model. Both tours are using the word collaboration, which is great. We are committed to working together. The wording in the deal that we have come to with the PGA TOUR is all about working together; coming up with a schedule globally that works for both parties.
“This alliance is the logical next step in a move toward a global golf game.”

You’d have thought if two parties are planning to take over the world they’d have put a lot of thought into just how they’re going to do that. Can’t wait to see how this strategic alliance pans out. Oh, and the PGL’s response.

#JustSaying: “It was audacious. I was ahead of my time, I guess. I could see the way golf was growing on a global front, because I was a global player.” Greg Norman, on his 1994 idea for a world golf tour

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28 nov 2020

"We are in robust financial health...*. That may be true... moreso AFTER the PGAT's check cleared.

Some form of PGAT/ET cooperation, alliance, merger, (or whatever they call it) has been inevitable for some time now. When the dust settles, I just hope some semblance of a strong European Tour remains. With the PGAT taking a financial interest in European Tour Productions, I think it's in their interest too.

Bottom line: This doesn't have to be a bad thing for the ET. There are many potential win-win scenarios. But like you said, the devil is in the details and Pelley's reluctance to discuss them probably should be raising concerns for ET players & fans.

Maybe it's time we heard more than…

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