Lucrative Saudi-backed golf league is ‘new opportunity’ for players, says CEO Greg Norman

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Norman explained that he believes that for the “journeymen” of golf, it can be a game-changing competition.

“If No. 283 (ranked player in the world), who just goes around and just plays through Asia, if he came and won $10-15 million, how great would that be for him, his family, the game of golf to actually reach out and give an opportunity for somebody, who’s probably a journeyman on some tour out there, to change their lives?” Norman told Davies.

Growth

On Wednesday, former world No. 1 Norman announced the formation of the new team-based, professional golf league.

The venture, backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), pledges to award $250 million in total prize money while hosting eight tournaments, held June through October.

The news release announcing the series listed the events taking place in seven cities around the world: London; Portland, Oregon; Bedminster, New Jersey; Boston; Chicago; Bangkok; and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The eighth event — a team championship — does not have a venue listed.

Five events occur after the end of the PGA Tour season, but three of those occur at the same time as events on the DP World Tour.

The PIF is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the man who a US intelligence report named as responsible for approving the operation that led to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bin Salman has denied involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.

On Saturday, March 12, Saudi Arabia executed 81 men in the biggest mass execution in decades. Rights groups have criticized the country for executing people who were minors at the time of the offenses for which they were convicted.

The source of the money behind the new league has caused golf commentators to question whether it is the best idea for the sport to find funding from a source with a questionable human rights record.

But when pressed on the country’s human rights record, Norman pointed to all the good work Saudi Arabia has done to grow golf.

“We’re here to grow the game of golf. Money from Saudi Arabia has gone into the game of golf and since 2019, Saudi Arabia has put on the Saudi International,” the 67-year-old said.

“That was co-sanctioned by the European Tour, now the DP World Tour. So the money’s been there and the other tours have co-sanctioned these tournaments by Saudi money. Golf is good for the world and golf is good for Saudi Arabia too. We’ve seen it.

“Saudi Arabia has invested a lot of money into women’s golf. They’re the largest investor in women’s golf today. So when you look at all the facts sitting out there, yes, our investor is Saudi money. I’m proud of that because, like I said, golf is good for the world and we’re just going to grow the game of golf on a worldwide basis.”

Phil Mickelson and Norman talk during a practice round prior to the PIF Saudi International.

Opposition

Rumors of the new venture have sparked speculation about which golfers will play on it.

News that the big-money Saudi-league had approached some of the biggest names in golf — including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau — to be its poster boys caused players to publicly distance themselves from the so-called “Super Golf League,” with Johnson, DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy all reiterating their commitment to the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson, one of the biggest names in the sport, caused controversy in February when he said he’d play in the league. He later apologized for his previous comments, lost multiple sponsorships over the controversy and said he will take some time away from golf.

Although it is unclear which golfers will compete in the tournaments at the time of writing — Norman said that “nobody’s signed up because it’s an invitational and the invites haven’t been sent out yet” — Norman doesn’t think that they’ll have any trouble attracting the biggest names.

“We’re not going to have a problem getting to players,” he said. “I bet you we don’t have a shortage of players, to tell you the truth.

“It’s an invitation and the invitations will be going out and we’ll gladly make an announcement about who’s playing in the near future as we lead up to it. And as I said to the players, if you’re sitting out there and you’re liking what you’re seeing, go apply for a release.

“From the European Tour, from the PGA Tour or whoever it is, go apply for a release. You have three releases, you have the right to go play under their rules and regulations today, go do it and go play.

“So you’ve got three out of the eight, and if you only play three then you might not get the individual world championship opportunity for the top three individual players which is $30 million at the end of the year after seven events. So the more you play, the more chance you have of catching that pool, no different to what the FedEx is for the players today.”

The currently established golf tours — primarily the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour — have expressed their opposition to the new venture.

Norman told CNN’s Davies that they have had to battle “white noise” which has been “controlled by other entities” to make strides towards getting off the ground.

And the 20-time PGA Tour winner questioned what the PGA Tour has to fear from the new league.

Johnson chats with DeChambeau near the green at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

“There have been a lot of obstacles put in our path, there’s no question about it. The PGA Tour have fallen great, big redwood trees across our road but we’ve figured it out,” he said.

“We’re here for the long-term, I want to give the opportunity for players to have a better chance and more chance, other chances to go out there as independent contractors and go play golf. Let me ask you that question: what is wrong with that? And from the PGA Tour’s standpoint, what are they afraid of, quite honestly, with us giving the opportunity for independent contractors to go out and play for additional golf?

“We’re 100% additive to the game of golf. We just want to make the game of golf bigger and better, have a lot more evolution to the game of golf, enhance the entertainment side of things, for the fans, for the players, for the stakeholders, everybody. So as the players understand it now, it’s a totally different narrative.”

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