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This one key point can help the PGA Tour/PIF/DP World Tour 'get a deal done quickly,' says a negotiator

January 16, 2024
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Andrew Redington

DUBAI — With less than three months to go before he leaves the DP World Tour, chief executive Keith Pelley is talking “unity.” Global unity in professional golf that is, what the 60-year-old Canadian hopes will be the end result of talks currently taking place between the Old World circuit, the PGA Tour, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Strategic Sports Group. It is a noble aim to be sure, but one that will have to navigate the various and often combative political agendas at play within the game at the highest level.

Still, Pelley, who is leaving his Wentworth office to return to his hometown of Toronto and the position of President & CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Limited, remains hopeful that a meeting of great and good minds will eventually produce a significant result.

“The growth of the game needs to be global,” said Pelley, whose new job will have him overseeing Toronto teams in baseball, hockey, soccer and basketball. “That's where the focus needs to be. Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool (soccer club) and is part of SSG, understands the importance of global. PIF certainly understands the importance of being global. This is a global game. Every business now that is growing wants to be global. So what I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy.”

Either significantly or unthinkingly, Pelley initially failed to identify the PGA Tour as part of that process. Only when pressed did he acknowledge the Ponte Vedra Beach-based organization’s (belated) acknowledgement that looking outward is the catalyst to getting the result the game needs.

“The PGA Tour is coming to the realization that ‘globality’ is the key for growth,” Pelley said. “They have heard me say it once or twice. We've talked about a lot of different scenarios and different concepts. At the end of the day, the consumer, the partners, everybody wants a global approach. How we execute that is to be determined. Every possibility is on the table.”

Within that broad scope, however, Pelley feels that, whatever decision is eventually reached, the top players have to be competing against each as often as possible. Although “it's not something that's on the table at this particular time,” part of that process could see the death of the so-called independent contractor. Instead, the current world order would be replaced by one where players would be required to sign up for at least a minimum number of events. That minimum wouldn’t be too far removed from the maximum. Call it golf Formula 1-style.

“That's what the aspirational goal down the road,” Pelley said. “That’s what the game is moving towards. Look at last week. The Dubai Invitational was a success because Rory [McIlroy] and Tommy [Fleetwood] produced a magical performance on Sunday. Tournaments are different when Rory plays. Tournaments are different when Tommy and Tyrrell [Hatton] are here and all the top players play. That concept of having all the top players play, and knowing when they play, is a great model for success.”

There was even time for a baseball analogy.

“I used to run the Toronto Blue Jays,” Pelley said. “We had a shortstop by the name of José Reyes. José never once came up to me and said: ‘I'm not playing in the Baltimore series.’ He never said: ‘You know what I'm not going to play in Philadelphia because I'm going to go away with my family for the weekend.’ That is one of the biggest challenges the game faces. The top players need to be playing with top players more. And that’s where we're moving towards.”

Mention was made of one of the most controversial aspects of Pelley’s 8½-year tenure with what was the European Tour. The strategic alliance with the PGA Tour and the “transfer” of 10 leading players from the DP World Tour each year has been—and continues to be—a deeply contentious issue among the rank-and-file players. But Pelley is unrepentant.

“The strategic alliance has been a game-changer for our business,” he said. “There is no question. In the midst of global uncertainty, we have guaranteed purses and [our] earning potential is at an all-time high. I look at that and say we weren't prepared to do the deal unless those 10 cards were in there. Last night Matthieu Pavon finished seventh in his first tournament [the Sony Open in Hawaii] and won $250,000. All he said to me was, ‘thanks, Boss.’

“That's a wonderful opportunity for him, and I do believe that he's playing well. He'll come back though. And when he does play in the Open de France this year, he'll be a bigger name. He'll be a bigger draw. So people need to understand all of the details behind it and the rationale behind it.”

On something of a roll by this stage, Pelley then returned to the theme of unity. Last June’s announcement that the PIF and the PGA Tour, formerly sworn enemies, were talking to each other, was news he saw as nothing but good, at least potentially, for the game as a whole.

“I was overjoyed with what transpired,” he said. “That set us off in the right direction. And I still believe it's the right direction. What it means in terms of what the product looks like down the road, that is the second step in the process, not the first step. I'm not really worried about what happens with the product. The product will develop based on what is great for the game if you are all together in a room. And right now there is a will to get a deal done quickly. This is a global game and we need a global schedule that is unified. That's what I believe.”