Paul Payne: LIV Golf’s Nashville Plans Serves As Another Wake-Up Call For PGA Tour

  • Tuesday, February 27, 2024
  • Paul Payne
Paul Payne
Paul Payne

Like it or not, it may be time to reconsider my negative view of LIV Golf. As much as it pains me, I believe they are here to stay and they are coming soon to Tennessee.

When LIV launched two years ago, they were easy to dislike. It started with their CEO, Greg Norman, whose epic back-nine collapse in the ’96 Masters still brings me glee. Then the whole issue of the new league being bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund raised more than a few eyebrows.

it was easy to dismiss the upstart tour as a mere distraction from the tried-and-true monopoly enjoyed by the PGA Tour, with the early defectors simply seen as a collection of money-grubbing renegades with no sense of loyalty.

Adios to the gang of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and others whose best years were already behind them. I believed the PGA Tour would be perfectly fine without them, and their legacies would be forever tarnished for chasing the gobs of guaranteed cash being dangled in front of them.

My, how things have changed over the past two years.

The next wave of attrition included American major champions Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed. British Open winner Cameron Smith followed suit, then the bombshell of reigning Masters champion Jon Rahm jumping ship. Even University of Tennessee sophomore Caleb Surratt couldn’t resist, joining LIV in late January to embark on his professional career.

I must admit I’ve watched less than an hour of a LIV broadcast – and that was only because the PGA Tour’s round was washed out that day – it’s becoming increasingly apparent that LIV is steadily becoming more than an annoyance to the PGA powerbrokers down in Ponte Vedra.

While there are aspects of LIV which golfing traditionalists simply cannot stomach – playing only 54-hole events, shotgun starts, players wearing shorts, thumping music blaring during play and the downright weird team competitions – the tour has brought a level of uncomfortable scrutiny to the PGA Tour and its business model.

LIV announced last November that it will be bringing its roadshow to Nashville this summer on June 21-23 at The Grove, a posh community near Franklin whose course was designed by – you guessed it – Greg Norman.

You might be thinking, “I thought The Grove is the site of the Korn Ferry Tour’s successful Simmons Bank Open?” Not any longer. The Grove was purchased by Escalante Golf in October, which owns and operates other courses with LIV connections. It’s kind of hard to turn down LIV when they essentially now own The Grove.

That left the Simmons Bank event in limbo, and it will now relocate to the Vanderbilt Legends Club in September even though the Korn Ferry Tour website still has The Grove listed as the venue.

It’s another example of the PGA Tour’s weakening power base, something unfamiliar to an organization that has always been accustomed to operating from a perceived position of strength. The PGA Tour is learning first-hand that it is hard to compete against the bottomless cache of resources LIV has at its disposal.

This is unquestionably a time of transition for professional golf. For decades, golfers were viewed as independent contractors who earned their keep with the weekly grind of tour stops. There were no guarantees apart from sponsor money, and the PGA Tour continued to profit handsomely from a product with no competition.

That’s certainly no longer the case.

The current civil war between the two tours possibly could have been avoided. The original intent by LIV was to find a way to mutually coexist with the PGA Tour, allowing a series of limited-field events where players could be paid guaranteed money without sacrificing their existing tour status or world golf ranking inclusion. All LIV wanted was a seat at the table, but each request was met with deaf ears from the PGA brass.

Now we’re left with the current mess and the constant threat of subsequent player defections. Anthony Kim chose LIV to showcase his return to professional golf this week, while Norman has been publicly pursuing Hideki Matsuyama as his next coup. Kudos to Rory, Jordan and J.T. for standing firm. But at some point, the offer may be too good to ignore.

The PGA Tour has little leverage with LIV, and shrinking resources. The pressures of keeping the PGA ship afloat even drove tour commissioner Jay Monahan into taking a medical leave of absence last summer, admitting that the whole LIV conundrum and his attempts to strike a deal with the PIF contributed to his sabbatical.

The reality is that professional golf as we have always known it is gone. But I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing for players, sponsors or fans. The PGA Tour has implemented a $500,000 base wage for all exempt players, and the designation of eight tournaments deemed Signature Events that feature limited fields and enhanced purses resembles LIV’s structure.

Supposedly there are ongoing negotiations to bring a semblance of unity between the two tours, but earlier deadlines have come and gone with no agreement. The PGA Tour did announce a $1.5 billion partnership several weeks ago with Strategic Sports Group where nearly 200 PGA Tour members will have the opportunity to become equity partners in the new entity. It’s a bold endeavor to stop the bleeding, but it still doesn’t address what to do with LIV.

Many have vilified LIV and their forced entry into the sport. Their emergence has shined a spotlight on the PGA Tour’s smugness and unwillingness to change for the benefit of its players. LIV’s schedule has only 14 events across the globe, each featuring 48-man fields in 54-hole formats. Certainly, there are sacrifices when it comes to being blocked from competing in certain majors and international team events such as the Ryder Cup. But who wouldn’t want to earn considerably more money while spending less time at the office?

LIV has also demonstrated a desire be responsible partners when it comes to their upcoming event in Nashville. They recognized their arrival could adversely impact the Korn Ferry event, and have committed to make up any financial shortfalls. LIV also has a track record of making sizeable charitable commitments in all of their tour stops. Regardless of how many people decide to come watch the competition, LIV’s deep pockets will have a positive financial impact on middle Tennessee.

There’s no doubt Nashville is an attractive market to stage a premier golf event. But LIV beat the PGA Tour to the punch and will reap the benefits. The metrics produced by LIV indicate that 40% of their patrons have never attended a golf tournament, and 60% of them are under the age of 40 which means new money into the sport.

So regardless of which side of the argument you land, a fresh segment of the population is being introduced to golf. And that’s good for the sport in the long run.

Let’s just hope that some sort of compromise can be reached where we can once again watch the world’s best golfers competing together. Otherwise, we can expect the allure of riches to continue to rob the PGA Tour of its biggest names.

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Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com

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