LIV Golf: DP World Tour chief Keith Pelley hits out at Saudis over 'detrimental' circuit

Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour chief executive, strongly hit out at the Saudi Arabian money men at the heart of golf being ripped apart as he finally broke his silence on the game’s hot topic.

CEO of the PGA European Tour Keith Pelley pictured earlier this year at The Masters. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.
CEO of the PGA European Tour Keith Pelley pictured earlier this year at The Masters. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

A week after PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had described Saudi-backed LIV Golf as an “irrational threat”, Pelley delivered an equally-damning assessment of the breakaway circuit.

It was conveyed by the Canadian as the DP World Tour and PGA Tour strengthened an existing Strategic Alliance by unveiling a new 13-year partnership.

As part of that, from 2023 the leading ten players on the DP World Tour Rankings – in addition to those already exempt – will earn PGA Tour cards for the following season.

If that had been in place last year, both Bob MacIntyre and Calum Hill would have held full cards for the US circuit this season.

Addressing the Saudi issue for the first time, Pelley, who had earlier delivered the same message to his members at a players’ meeting at Mount Juliet, venue for this week’s Horizon Irish Open, said: “In July of 2021, in Malta, we viewed an unsolicited presentation from P54, the marketing agent representing Golf Saudi.

“In our September board meeting that year, we showed the details of that presentation to the board. After a discussion, in our assessment, we realised the numbers were less compelling than Raine Capital and the PGL proposal we turned down nine months earlier.

“Out of respect for all parties involved, I'm not going to go into detail about the figures. But you have to trust myself and the board that materially this was not a good deal for the European Tour and its members.

“Most importantly, and this is most important, it was nowhere near the figures being bandied about in the media and in the players’ lounge over the past couple of months.

“We have had no further conversation with them since last summer. I was not at Centurion (venue for the inaugural LIV Golf event three week ago). I was in Sweden.

“We have been totally focused and the complexity of two members' organisations coming together has required a tremendous amount of resolve, unwavering commitment and work with our respective teams. That has been our primary and our only focus and I'm proud of where we've gotten to today.”

He was asked about minutes from that Malta meeting, which had been circulated in recent months, suggesting that he was going to undertake the attempt to broker a meeting between Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Kingdom of Saudi Public Investment Fund, and Monahan and that, over 10 years, the financial injection at the DP World Tour, could reach one billion.

“We never received a formal written offer from Golf Saudi,” insisted Pelley. “We brought Golf Saudi into the game in 2019. Shortly thereafter, we had conversations about how they could get involved in other aspects of our game and including the Challenge Tour, which is something they turned down.

"It leaves me perplexed when they talk about their aspiration to grow the game, yet nobody really can explain to me how that works. And I would have thought that our Challenge Tour feeder tour into the DP World Tour would have been a perfect avenue.

“Unfortunately, Golf Saudi has elected to play outside the ecosystem. They play inside the ecosystem in Formula 1, they play inside the ecosystem in Premier League Football and as they do in women's golf. And I'm a board member of the LET.

“I've been consistent that if in fact they are interested to play inside the ecosystem and not launch a rival tour that I think is detrimental to the game at large, then I personally, from DP World's perspective, would be open and they know that to having a conversation.

“But I'm not interested and that's why there has been no conversation since the summer of 2021, because they are convinced and they seem compelled to play outside the ecosystem as opposed to inside.”

Set up in November 2020, the Strategic Alliance has already led to three events being co-sanctioned by the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour.

That arrangement starts with next week’s Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in East Lothian, with the set up being replicated in both the Barbasol Championship and Barracuda Championship in the US over the next couple of weeks.

Fourteen of the current world’s top 15 are playing in the Scottish Open, with Pelley and Monahan excited about that opening a new chapter for the respective tours.

As part of the new joint-venture, the PGA Tour will increase its existing stake in European Tour Productions from 15 per cent to 40 per cent.

The DP World Tour will guarantee growth in annual prize funds to its membership for the next five years, all above the record 2022 levels unveiled last November.

In addition to PGA Tour cards being up for grabs directly through the DP World Tour, players on this side of the Atlantic are also set to gain access to new international events announced last week by Monahan as the PGA Tour outlined its plans in the battle to fight off the threat of LIV Golf.

“Building on the success of the existing Strategic Alliance between ourselves and the PGA Tour, this move will significantly enhance the meritocracy that has successfully served the professional game on both sides of the Atlantic for more than 50 years,” said Pelley.

“It is a natural extension and progression of what we have been doing over the past few years and I passionately believe that this move is the right thing for our players, our Tour, our fans, and the game of golf in general.

“Our two tours have undoubtedly drawn closer over the past few years and today’s announcement strengthens both Tours for the betterment of both memberships.”

Monahan added: “It was clear from the outset that our Strategic Partnership with the European Tour Group was a powerful agreement for both sides, and we are thrilled with today’s announcement of this expanded partnership."

DP World Tour members who played in the LIV Golf event at Centurion Club without being granted a release have been fined £100,000 and prohibited from playing in the Genesis Scottish Open.

The breakaway circuit’s second event is taking place at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon this week and a decision will be taken in due course about further punishments for the likes of Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Ian Poulter.

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