The men behind a plan to revolutionise golf by setting up a new world tour are using this week’s Saudi International to get in the ear of some of the game’s top players.
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson played with some of the key figures in the move to establish a Premier Golf League, involving just 48 players and also including a team format, in the pro-am at Royal Greens Golf Club in King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea coast.
In what was certainly no coincidence, the 49-year-old was the target of a sales pitch by a group that included Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation, indicating that Saudi Arabian money is behind a billion dollar start-up investment.
Also trying to hammer home how they think the new circuit can give professional golf a shake up to make it more appealing to TV companies, sponsors and fans, were three other key stakeholders.
American sports consultant Colin Neville, who works for The Raine Group, which had already been announced as a partner in the Premier Golf League bid, also played with Mickelson, as did London financier Andrew Gardiner, a director at Barclays Capital and former executive at Lehman Brothers.
Neville, a Yale University graduate, helped broker David Beckham’s purchase of an MLS football franchise in Miami, oversaw the $4 billion sale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and helped Manchester City sell a 13 per cent stake in the club to a group of Chinese investors at a $3 billion valuation.
Also accompanying the pro-am group but not playing was another key figure – identified only as Richard – with Mickelson admitting afterwards that he had been impressed with what they had to say about a proposal that has led both PGA Tour and European Tour bosses to warn their members about the consequences of being part of a breakaway circuit.
“I had the chance to spend time with and play with the gentlemen in charge of trying to start a new Premier League,” he told a group of reporters attending this week’s $3.5 million European Tour event. “It was fascinating to talk with them and ask some questions and see what their plans are. Where they started, how they started, why and just got their background, which was very interesting.
“I haven’t had the chance to put it all together and think about what I want to say about it publicly, but I do think it was an informative day for me to have the chance to spend time with them.”
Under the proposals, 48 top players would play in 18 events worldwide over 54 holes, with a $10 million prize fund in each one, while there would also be a Formula One-style team event running concurrently.
“I asked a lot of questions today and there are some very interesting ideas and it seems very well put together,” added Mickelson, who has joined world No 1 Brooks Koepka and fifth-ranked Dustin Johnson in securing a hefty appearance fee for the second Saudi International. “I think a huge aspect of it is about the fans. Before I formulate an opinion, I’ll look at whether or not this is a good thing for fans, is this a good thing for sponsors and is it going to be good for television? How does it affect all those involved?”
When Greg Norman, the world No 1 at the time, came up with a similar plan for a world tour 25 years ago, that never got off the ground due to the PGA Tour giving it the thumbs down. “I don’t rememeber it being really tangible,” said Mickelson, a rising star back then, of that failed attempt. “It was more like a concept. This seems a lot more than a concept.”