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Saudi-backed LIV and PGA Tour announce golf merger deal

Former US President Donald Trump hails 'glamorous deal' between major golfing tournaments
LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman greets fans during day three of LIV Golf Invitational on 19 March 2023, at the Gallery Golf Club in Tucson, Arizona (AFP)

The PGA Tour, European Tour and rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit announced a landmark deal on Tuesday to merge and form a commercial entity to unify golf.

The three organisations said in a joint news release that they will work cooperatively to allow a process for any LIV Golf players to reapply for PGA Tour and DP World Tour membership following the 2023 season.

"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 joint news release.

The LIV Golf series is bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) and critics have accused it of being a vehicle for the country to attempt to gloss its reputation in the face of criticism of its human rights record.

The announcement of the merger includes an agreement to end all pending litigation between the participating parties. 

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Additionally, PIF will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success.

"Today is a very exciting day for this special game and the people it touches around the world," said PIF governor Yasir al-Rumayyan.

"We are proud to partner with the PGA Tour to leverage PIF's unparalleled success and track record of unlocking value and bringing innovation and global best practices to business and sectors worldwide."

The rival LIV Golf circuit launched in 2022 and lured some big-name players away from the rival circuits with staggering sums of money in 54-hole events that feature no cuts and paydays for every golfer.

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Among the more popular players who made the move to LIV Golf are Hall of Fame golfer Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson, reigning PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka, and 2022 British Open winner Cameron Smith. 

Monahan and Rumayyan appeared next to one another smiling on CNBC Tuesday in a remarkable turnaround for two men whose competing leagues had been locked in a bitter legal feud just days ago.  

"There has been a lot of tension in our sport the last couple of years, but what we are talking about today is coming together to unify the game of golf," he said, adding that Rumayyan had come to the negotiations with an "open heart".

The two said the deal had been hashed out secretly over lunch meetings in London - and a round of golf.

Monahan told Tour employees it was  "a momentous day for your organization and the game of golf as a whole”, according to an internal Memo viewed by the Wall Street Journal. 

Monahan said that the deal prohibits any further recruitment of PGA Tour or LIV Golf members, ending one of the main points of acrimony between the leagues.

Many aspects of the new venture still have to be hashed out. Monahan, in his memo, said “there is much work to be done to get us from a framework agreement to a definitive agreement”. 

The merger also prompted a cheerful statement on the Truth Social platform from former US President Donald Trump, who owns several golf courses. Trump said it was "a big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf".

Besides backing the LIV Golf league, Saudi Arabia’s $600bn PIF, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, acquired the English Premier League football club, Newcastle United FC, in 2021 and also considered buying Formula 1 motor racing last year.

The crown prince has sought to boost the kingdom's holdings in sports and entertainment. While he has pushed through some social reforms, he has also overseen a crackdown on dissent and waves of executions.

Critics have accused Saudi Arabia of engaging in "sportswashing" to cover up its poor human rights record in a week when three people were executed in the kingdom, bringing the number of executions to 47 in 2023.

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