PGA Tour Announces Surprise Partnership with Saudi-Backed Breakaway LIV Golf, Ending Legal Feud

(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images via CNN)(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — The US-based PGA Tour is set to partner with the Saudi-backed breakaway LIV Golf, ending a feud that has dogged the men’s professional game for the past year.

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The PGA Tour made the shock announcement on Tuesday, saying a new partnership with LIV and the DP World Tour would “unify the game of golf.”

“The parties have signed an agreement that combines PIF’s golf-related commercial businesses and rights (including LIV Golf) with the commercial businesses and rights of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour into a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity,” the statement read.

A spokesperson for the PGA Tour told CNN that the new relationship between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour (formerly known as the European Tour) and LIV Golf is not a merger, but “a partnership/creation of a new commercial entity.”

The LIV Golf series, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), officially launched in June 2022, with participating players subsequently barred from competing in PGA Tour events. The PIF is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, known by his initials MBS.

The two rival tours have since been involved in a series of legal disputes, with all pending litigation mutually ended under the new agreement. “After two years of disruption and distraction, this is a historic day for the game we all know and love,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.

Monahan described the deal as a “transformational partnership,” that would “benefit golf’s players, commercial and charitable partners and fans.”

He praised PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, saying his “vision and collaborative and forward-thinking approach” was not only a solution to the rift within the sport but also a “commitment to taking it to new heights.”

“This will engender a new era in global golf, for the better,” he added.

In the same statement, Al-Rumayyan said it was an “exciting day,” for golf and the sport’s fans.

“There is no question that the LIV model has been positively transformative for golf. We believe there are opportunities for the game to evolve while also maintaining its storied history and tradition,” he said.

Al-Rumayyan told CNBC he expected the partnership to be finalized “in a matter of weeks” and was set to serve as the chairman of the new entity’s Board of Directors.

Players React

The emergence of the LIV Golf, offering huge prize money and guaranteed earnings across substantially fewer events than the PGA Tour, led to distinct fractures within the sport.

PIF pledged to award $250 million in total prize money for the tour’s inaugural season. Of the $25 million offered at each of the first seven events, $20 million was a guaranteed split between players.

The PGA Tour responded earlier this year by announcing a revamped schedule for 2024, with “designated events” offering increased prize purses, smaller fields, and no cuts.

The antagonism was embodied by one of its biggest stars, Rory McIlroy, who became the de-facto spokesperson for the PGA Tour and an outspoken critic of the breakaway series. In August 2022, the four-time major winner told CNN that LIV Golf had “ripped apart” the men’s game.

Tiger Woods was also critical, arguing in July 2022 that players who joined LIV Golf had “turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position.”

Phil Mickelson, one of the earliest to join LIV Golf, became one of the new tour’s most vocal defenders after facing heavy criticism for joining.

Responding to the announcement, Mickelson said on Twitter: “Awesome day today.”

Former President Donald Trump, whose courses have hosted several LIV Golf events, welcomed the news.

“Great news from LIV Golf,” Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social. “A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all!!!”

Initial social media reaction from players suggested that some were caught unaware.

Collin Morikawa tweeted, “I love finding out morning news on Twitter,” while fellow pro Michael S. Kim said: “Very curious how many people knew this deal was happening. About 5-7 people? Player run organization right?”

‘A momentous day’

In a memo to PGA Tour players, Monahan said the new partnership would require approval from the PGA Tour policy board. CNN obtained the memo from a PGA Tour spokesperson.

The Tour commissioner said LIV Golf’s 2023 calendar would continue as planned, while a “fair and objective process” would be established for players wanting to re-apply for PGA Tour or DP World Tour membership after the 2023 season.

Monahan ended the memo by saying there was “much work to do” to get from a “framework agreement to a definitive agreement,” but that the Tour’s “history, legacy and pro-competitive model not only remains intact, but is supercharged for the future.”

Monahan said he was planning to attend Tuesday’s players’ meeting at the RBC Canadian Open at 4 p.m. ET to answer questions regarding what he told players was a “momentous day for your organization and the game of golf as a whole.”

In a statement, Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the DP World Tour, echoed Monahan’s comments.

“We are delighted to be able to not only reignite our relationship with PIF, but also to have the opportunity to build on our current Strategic Alliance partnership with the PGA Tour,” Pelley said.

“Together we will be stronger than ever and well positioned to continue to bring the game to all corners of the globe. To partner in this new entity and influence the growth of the game for all our DP World Tour members is energizing and exciting.”

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, organizers of The Open Championship, said: “We are pleased that an agreement has been reached which will help men’s professional golf move forward in a collaborative, constructive and innovative fashion.

“We care deeply about golf’s future and are committed to ensuring that the sport continues to thrive for many years to come.

“This agreement represents a huge step toward achieving that goal for golf and we look forward to working with the new entity for the benefit of the sport globally.”

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