Why fractured golf needs to get act together amid steep TV figures drop and warnings from sponsors

Opportunity to create proper global schedule has to be grasped and it mainly has to be ‘real golf’

Get it sorted and sooner rather than later because, quite frankly, everyone is getting fed up with golf being made to look silly and that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. In case it hadn’t dawned on you, it’s edging close to a year since the shock announcement that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund had decided to work together to come up with an exciting new landscape for the game yet, by the looks of things, it would appear that bold future is as clear as mud right now.

As a significant drop in TV ratings this year has shown, the fans are clearly unhappy about what is happening in the sport and now one of the game’s big sponsors has spoken out about the mess that has unfolded over the past two years by having a divide that was never going to be healthy and, in actual fact, has created a situation that has proved to be way more damaging than lots of people probably expected, including some of those who made the switch to LIV Golf.

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“We are all watching the PGA Tour right now trying to sort through a business model that has been under some significant strain and has still not fully resolved itself and that’s still TBD (to be determined),” said Mary DePaoli, the Royal Bank of Canada’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, at last week’s Canadian Open media day. “It’s required a lot of patience from the players and it’s required a lot of patience from sponsors and fans.”

PGA Tour policy board members Patrick Cantlay and Tiger Woods chat during the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia. Picture: William West//AFP via Getty Images.PGA Tour policy board members Patrick Cantlay and Tiger Woods chat during the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia. Picture: William West//AFP via Getty Images.
PGA Tour policy board members Patrick Cantlay and Tiger Woods chat during the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia. Picture: William West//AFP via Getty Images.

That, in other words, was a ‘ge-your-act-together’ warning from the company that came to the rescue of the Canadian Open in 2008 before then helping prop up the PGA Tour’s post-Masters event at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina in 2016, with DePaoli effectively saying that RBC will not be committing to any long-term deals for either of those events until “professional men’s golf can get back on track”.

Like it or not, LIV Golf is here to stay. Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the PIF chief, regards that circuit as his pride and joy and, as we saw with Jon Rahm with his sensational switch to the breakaway circuit for the 2024 campaign, we can never discount the possibility of numerous other top players being lured away from the PGA Tour in particular but the DP World Tour as well by mega-money offers, particularly if those talks around a framework agreement collapsed and, let’s face it, we’ve seen very little indeed to suggest that proper progress is actually being made and the longer we wait the worse it becomes for the game because it’s giving people an excuse to turn their back on golf in terms of being an entertainment product.

No matter what Greg Norman, the circuit’s CEO and commissioner, or anyone else might claim, LIV Golf hasn’t been a game-changer in the respect of drawing a new audience to the sport and, unless I am badly out of touch with a game I love with a passion, the team element of it just doesn’t have any appeal whatsoever to the vast majority of people who either play or follow golf. But would that be different if all the top players were involved and, even more so, they were representing countries instead of names that, bluntly, are meaningless to most people?

Repeating something he first said to myself and a handful of fellow golf writers during the 2022 Senior Open at Gleneagles, four-time major winner Ernie Els said last week that he believes there’s “maybe a place for team golf within the global schedule in a two-month happy season” and he’s certainly not alone in that respect but, at the same time, it was telling that he also talked about the importance of “real golf” being played for the rest of the year.

By that, of course, he means the game’s best players competing against each other, as will be the case in this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla, where defending champion and three-time winner Brooks Koepka is spearheading a 15-strong LIV Golf group, but that can’t just be in the US, hence why the likes of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay need to be viewing matters in a much wider sense than seems to the case in their PGA Tour policy board roles.

If Rory Mcllroy’s proposed return to the group of player representatives on that board was blocked because his views don’t align with the likes of Woods, Spieth and Cantlay, then that is a) shocking and b) worrying because the game is crying out to be turned into a true global product and you’ve got to think the business experts involved in the Strategic Sports Group will be determined to grasp that opportunity because it’s certainly not pumping $3 billion into the PGA Tour as a goodwill gesture.

Mistakes have been made on both sides over the past two years and, given the chance to give it a second go, I’m pretty sure the game would be in a much better place right now. But we’re here in the middle of a right old mess and, unless the opportunity is taken to sort it out in a way that shows how everyone is on board in terms of delivering a schedule that includes events in Europe, the Middle East, Far East, Australasia and Africa, those at the heart of those all-important discussions will stand guilty of throwing away a gilt-edged opportunity to change the face of the game forever and, at the same time, provide more ammunition for those who claim that certain people are only interested in what happens in the US and sod everyone else.

It’s time for Woods, Cantlay, Spieth and others, including PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, to prove those people wrong and the world is watching.

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