Reports also link former world No.1 to Commissioner role with ambitious new global league certain to heighten tensions with PGA and European Tours.
By Kent Gray
Golf’s worst-kept secret has finally been confirmed, at least partially, with Greg Norman formally linked to a Saudi investment fund with still largely guarded but seemingly well-advanced plans to revolutionise the pro game worldwide.
Norman was unveiled on Friday as the CEO of LIV Golf Investments in a media release promising a series of “momentous developments” in the wake of the company’s formation.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds which came into sharp focus with its recent acquisition of English Premier League club Newcastle United, is the majority shareholder in the new company.
While there was no reference to the rival circuit that Norman has long been linked to, sources have confirmed to Golf Digest Middle East that the former world No.1 and World Golf Hall of Famer will also be Commissioner of a pioneering league with bold and global ambitions.
Whether there is enough commercial gravitas and emotional hooks in the plans to change the mind of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and/or Brooks Koepka – all of whom have previously rebuffed Saudi overtures – remains to be seen. But sources understand the league will go ahead regardless with Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey and Koepka previously linked to formal offer letters worth “hundreds of millions of dollars”. Be sure that Liv Golf Investments firming plans will have further heightened blood pressures at the PGA and European Tours HQs and undoubtedly further roused their respective legal eagles.
Sources have also linked the stagnant Asian Tour to the still highly secretive league, no great stretch given the circuit was confirmed on Friday as the first major benefactor of the Saudi cash injection.
A series of 10 “marquee” events will be bolted onto the Asian Tour schedule from 2022 courtesy of a 10-year, $200 million investment from the Liv Golf Investments. The new events will be broadcast globally in an effort to “stabilise” the professional game in the Asia-Pacific region and “unlock” the region’s “untapped potential”.
“This is only the beginning,” Norman said in the statement before an attempt to position the company’s formation as no threat to golf’s traditional stakeholders.
“LIV Golf Investments has secured a major capital commitment that will be used to create additive new opportunities across worldwide professional golf,” Norman continued.“We will be a cooperative and respectful supporter of the game at every level, and today’s announcement alongside the Asian Tour is the first example of that.”
“We will be a cooperative and respectful supporter of the game at every level.” – Greg Norman.
There has been widespread speculation that the now-named Saudi investors might purchase the Asian Tour outright but Golf Digest Middle East understands that total acquisition was never on the table and that Liv Golf Investments will seek only to position themselves as promoters of the 10 events. While further detail is to come via the Asian Tour, simple math points to a series of 10, $2 million events annually, a boon for a tour Norman regularly graced throughout his career and now describes as a “sleeping giant” of the global game. Before the pandemic stalled the Asian Tour in March 2020, there was only one tournament dating back to 2019 with a prize purse north of $1.75m– the $3 million Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
“I have been a staunch supporter and believer in playing and developing golf in Asia for more than four decades. The Asian Tour is a sleeping giant and we share ambition to grow the series and unlock what we believe is significant untapped potential,” the Australian said.
“We see our promotion of these new events as a vital first step in supporting emerging markets, creating a new platform, rich with playing opportunities that create valuable player pathways.”
The exciting news for Middle East fans is that the region will host at least one of the new Asia Tour events. Surprisingly, it won’t be the Saudi International which was announced as the Asia Tour’s flagship event and 2022 season-opener with a $5 million purse last month. That landmark 10-year deal with Golf Saudi is separate from the 10 new “marquee” events although the Saudi International will embrace the same open eligibility category, one that will ignore tour affiliation so that “opportunities are available to the broadest cross-section of players.”
Tournaments in Asia and Europe are also promised among the 10 new events which will count towards the overall Asian Tour order of merit. They will be weaved into new 25-event schedule to bolster a “backbone” of already established events. It is understood the new schedule will represent a record-breaking combined prize-fund in 2022.
Friday’s media release said further detail, “including a reveal of the brand and series name” would follow in the “near future”.
“This is the single biggest development in the history of the Asian Tour and a major milestone for professional golf,” said Cho Minn Thant, the Asian Tour’s Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer.
“The opportunity will secure unprecedented new playing opportunities, establish new player pathways, allow us to compete commercially with other sports, and enhance our social agenda.
“We are particularly excited at the prospect today’s landmark announcement brings to the amateur game, providing new inspiration to aspiring players through a new level of top-flight professional competition in the region.”
The Asian Tour’s suspended 2020/21 season will be reignited in Thailand in November and December with the staging to of two tournaments, before two additional events in Singapore scheduled for January.
Friday’s media release also said LIV Golf Investments “has been established with group companies in the USA, UK, with Asian offices to follow. Several high-profile C-Suite executives have already been appointed, with further announcements to follow in due course.”
“I am pleased that the investor base is 100 percent commercially driven by the opportunity to improve golf for all involved. I am happy to partner with this group of investors to bring the significant resources to bear that are necessary for the fundamental changes required for the greater good of the sport,” Norman said.
“Plans are in place to introduce further investment partners, who share the passion and belief in how new opportunities in professional golf can create widespread benefit for fans and players.”