Updated Jun 6, 2023 - Sports

Golf tour rivals PGA and Saudi-backed LIV agree to surprise merger

Brooks Koepka, who left the PGA to join the LIV tour, at the 2019 PGA Championship. Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed breakaway tour, agreed to merge on Tuesday, in a deal that shocked the sports world and set the stage for two bitter rivals to combine under one roof.

Why it matters: The agreement halts ugly litigation that embroiled the two tours and puts the PGA in the awkward spot of merging with the same entity its been trashing for human rights abuses and negative impact on the sport.

What they're saying: "So weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis' human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport," Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted shortly after the deal was announced.

  • "I guess maybe their concerns weren't really about human rights?"
  • LIV's launch last year. sparked an immediate fight with the PGA, as the two sides battled over poaching and keeping high-priced talent.

Details: According to terms of the deal, LIV's financial backer, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), will make an investment in the combined entity, though the exact financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

  • In a joint statement, the two entities — along with the DP World Tour, also covered by the agreement — said they will "implement a plan to grow these combined commercial businesses, drive greater fan engagement and accelerate growth initiatives already underway."

Zoom in: PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will serve as chairman of the combined entity, with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan as CEO.

  • Saudi Arabia's PIF will be the sole investor in the new entity with rights to invest further money and the right of first refusal on any outside investment, according to Tuesday's statement.

The big picture: The PGA's decision to partner with the PIF raised eyebrows and drew strong condemnation from multiple corners, with many accusing the PGA of hypocrisy.

  • During its bitter fight with LIV, the PGA often pointed to the Saudi's government's human rights abuse record as reason enough not to defect to the rival tour, though several big-name pros made the move.
  • 9/11 Families United, an organization made up of family members of 9/11 victims, said in a statement that Monahan "co-opted the 9/11 community last year" when he criticized PGA golfers for switching over to LIV.
  • "But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation."

Of note: The deal ends all pending litigation between the two organizations and will set up a to-be-named new company. LIV's ability to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to pull top golfers from the PGA fed the rivalry and hatred on both sides.

  • As part of the agreement, the three groups will establish "a fair and objective process for any players who want to re-apply for membership with the PGA Tour or DP World Tour" following the end of the 2023 season.
  • "After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love," Monahan said in the statement.
  • "If you look at the size of golf, monetary wise, it's about $100 billion today," Al-Rumayyan said in a joint CNBC interview with Monahan. "I think the growth is there, and I think working together we can have a faster growth rate than the way it was for the past 10 or 20 years."
  • Asked by CNBC if the PIF investment would be in the billions of dollars, Al-Rumayyan said “correct” but did not elaborate further.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Jeff Tracy talk about the Saudi influence that now looms large over professional golf.

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