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DP World Tour chief Keith Pelley to leave post, Guy Kinnings named successor

January 11, 2024
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GLYN KIRK

DUBAI — A day after the R&A revealed that its CEO, Martin Slumbers, would be leaving his post by year’s end, the European Tour group announced the departure of DP World Tour chief executive, Keith Pelley. The 60-year-old Toronto-native, who will be succeeded by his deputy, Guy Kinnings, April 2, is returning to his home city to be part of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd (MLSE), confirming reports out of Canada on Wednesday.

Pelley, only the fourth chief executive in the DP World Tour’s 52-year existence, joined the Wentworth-based organization in August 2015 from his previous position as president of Rogers Media in Canada. In his new role he will become the fifth president & CEO in the 25-year history of MLSE, one of the world’s premier sports and entertainment organizations, whose brands include the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Argonauts and Toronto FC, as well as the Scotiabank Arena, regarded as one of the top sports and entertainment venues in the world.

“It has been an incredible honor to be the chief executive of this wonderful institution for the past eight and a half years,” Pelley said. “When I came over from Canada, I set out to create a culture of innovation and to grow our prize funds and our tour for our members by ensuring that we appealed to new, younger and more diverse audience. We have done that and so much more because our players, staff, partners, broadcasters and fans have all fundamentally bought into that philosophy that we are in the entertainment industry.”

Still, for all that he has clearly enjoyed his years in golf administration—even if his tenure coincided with two unprecedented occurrences in the COVID pandemic and the emergence of LIV Golf—Pelley felt the pull of home and what will likely be his final job before retirement.

“This role with MLSE, and the chance to be involved with my hometown sports teams in Toronto, was the one opportunity that I simply could not resist,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do at some point in my career, and I’m very grateful to be given that chance. I am also fortunate to be able to pass the baton on to someone immensely experienced and respected in Guy who I have no doubt will ensure the tour continues to prosper for many years to come.”

Following his self-proclaimed strategy of “transforming global golf,” Pelley was never slow to try new things. Over the course of his tenure, the DP World Tour experimented with various innovative formats. Some of those survived; some did not. But among Pelley’s prouder boasts are the introduction of the Rolex Series events, the G4D Tour for Golfers with a Disability, mixed events with the LET and LPGA, and the staging of what are claimed to be the two most successful Ryder Cups to be played on European soil, in Paris in 2018 and Rome in 2023.

Pelley also oversaw the strengthening of the alliance, announced in June 2022, between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour. The tours unveiled a 13-year operational joint partnership through 2035 that included the co-sanctioning of the DPWT’s Genesis Scottish Open and the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship and Barracuda Championship. Among other significant changes in the new agreement was that the leading 10 players in the Race to Dubai rankings at the end of the season, who are not already exempt, earn PGA Tour cards for the following season and are guaranteed stipend of $500,000.

Of course, the most pressing issues of the past year have involved the two tours and their negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund in an effort to create a for-profit entity that would oversee the operation of events for PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. The ongoing talks also now involve the Strategic Sports Group, a collective of several investors and firms, fronted by the Fenway Sports Group. The sports conglomerate owns the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool F.C., and a NASCAR racing team.

Pelley told Golf Digest in November, “The conversations we are having will be in the best interests of global golf and the best interests of the DP World Tour. I won’t comment on specific formats or seasons as all those conversations are confidential. But, as I’ve said internally, things have heated up since the Ryder Cup. Discussions have intensified.” In what ways Pelley will remain involved in the negotiations, or how Kinnings might participate, are unclear.

“Keith has been a truly transformative leader, both for our Tour and for global golf,” said Eric Nicoli, chairman of the European Tour group. “His impact should not be underestimated, and our strong succession planning means we have fully prepared for this, and he hands over to Guy, another figure who commands huge respect across our industry.”

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Guy Kinnings, who has been Executive Director of Ryder Cup Europe as well as serving as DP World Tour Deputy CEO since 2018, will take over for Pelley in April.

Andrew Redington

Well, which that last claim might be largely true, it is not universal. Speaking before the announcement of Pelley’s departure and Kinnings’ accession, World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was less than effusive in his comments regarding the new man in charge.

“I'm happy for Keith,” said McIlroy. “I think it's an awesome opportunity for him. I’m glad that other people see what I've certainly seen over the time he has been in charge of the European Tour. I think he's done a great job. He's navigated where the European Tour found itself in this whole chess game that is world golf really, really well. He's put the DP World Tour in a position where they can really benefit from everything that's going on. With everything that's gone on with the game he's been a voice of reason. It’s a shame we are not going to have that anymore.”

And Kinnings, who was formerly the Global Head of IMG’s golf division before, in 2018, assuming the roles of Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Chief Commercial Officer and Executive Director—Ryder Cup, at the DP World Tour?

“I think for the short term, absolutely,” McIlroy said. “He knows everything that's been going on and he's been by Keith's side for a lot of this. I think absolutely short term, Guy would be very competent to run things. But I guess like any business, you've probably got to look around, look outside and see if there's any other talent out there that can help.”