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Dunne's departure highlights power shift within PGA-Saudi talks

May 14, 2024
Jimmy Dunne, board member with PGA Tour, during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC, DC, US, on Tuesday, July 11, 2023.

Jimmy Dunne during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., on July 11, 2023. Photo: Sara Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Jimmy Dunne's resignation underscores the shifting winds amid the talks between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund.

Why it matters: Dunne was one of the key architects of last year's deal that would have ended the PGA Tour's civil war with Saudi-backed LIV.

Catch up quick: The PGA Tour and PIF first agreed to a framework deal last June that would have combined the commercial businesses of the PGA, DP World Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf into a separate entity counting the PIF as minority investors.

Zoom in: The role of the PGA's policy board, where Dunne was a key member, has shrunk during talks with the Saudis ever since the PGA took a $3 billion investment early this year from a U.S.-based consortium of investors led by Fenway Sports Group, a source tells Axios.

  • The consortium, known as Strategic Sports Group (SSG), is an investment team headed by Fenway Sports Group and includes sports owners such as John Henry (Red Sox) and Steve Cohen (Mets).
  • As part of the $3 billion deal, SSG became a minority investor in the newly created PGA Tour Enterprises, a for-profit entity that will manage the PGA's commercial business.
  • That entity is now leading the talks with the Saudis, the source says, with the PGA's policy board taking the back seat.
  • The move signifies the growing influence that the Enterprises group and Fenway Sports will have in the Tour's future.

Zoom out: Dunne said that he hasn't been asked to help with negotiations for the past 11 months.

  • "No meaningful progress has been made toward a transaction with PIF," Dunne wrote in his resignation letter to his fellow PGA Tour policy board members, according to Sports Illustrated, which first reported the news.
  • In confirming Dunne's departure, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan wrote in a memo Monday night that "we continue to make meaningful progress behind the scenes in our negotiations toward a potential agreement with the PIF."
  • Underscoring that point, the source said that all the player-directors on the PGA policy board have met with PIF's Yasir Al-Rumayyan and that a negotiating team, including Fenway Sports' Henry and PGA board member Tiger Woods, was formed.

What we're watching: Dunne's resignation is the latest dramatic twist for the board. Last week, three player-directors — Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Woods — blocked Rory McIlroy from rejoining the board.

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