Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)



Voices

Money is not the solution to golf's civil war

1259014761

Ben Jared

January 31, 2024

Professional golf handled its schism the way it tries to rectify all its woes, which is by throwing money at the problem, which is fine except that’s why the game’s here in the first place. Greed, self-preservation, entitlement, those are the masters the sport has served during the game’s civil war—and what has caused the civil war. Wednesday's announcement that private equity is infusing up to $3 billion into the newly created PGA Tour Enterprises, a new for-profit venture, only underlines that reality. Distilling the complex nature of the tour’s new relationship with the Strategic Sports Group is somewhat impossible, but for those looking for a one-sentence explainer, it’s a deal that financially rewards players who did not defect to LIV Golf while allowing the tour to refill its bleeding war chest. It’s interesting only in the vein that some are riveted in how the rich get richer.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely this is the solution, because greed, self-preservation and entitlement are not financial issues. They are issues of the heart and soul, and no dollar sign fixes that. Eventually the sense of privilege returns because it is a demon that can never be fed. Besides, there’s another entity that holds the key to this fight, and it’s a party both sides seem brazenly obtuse to its power. For a second, put aside that the tour remains in competition with a foreign kingdom capable of sending fleets of Brink’s trucks to any golfer it wishes, or that Wednesday’s deal likely signaled peace isn’t coming anytime soon, and focus on privilege. Because for the better part of two years, the PGA Tour, LIV Golf, players and most of the constituents involved with both have taken for granted the privilege of your investment, of your attention and time and passion. It’s not capital or leverage or legacy that’s important; what makes any of this matter is you.

That may seem hard to believe, considering how sidelined and hopeless many onlookers have felt in this stupid feud. But in one collective voice it is the fans who will ultimately decide how this plays out. Fans are the ones who give what’s going on consequence and meaning, and why companies are willing to spend millions to associate themselves with an ecosystem that emits an emotional pull. That’s why LIV Golf has been a failure, because, for all its claims of disruption, by almost every metric available, it has not gained your care. It is a circus without a crowd, the most expensive member-guest ever produced. And yet, the PGA Tour and many players are just as guilty, catering to their own membership over the common man. Why the stakeholders have missed this point—why they care more about themselves rather than where their actions are taking golf as a whole—remains a point of great frustration.

Sports fans have a high tolerance for pain. They can put up with their hearts being ripped out, with rising ticket prices, with clueless management and crooked systems. They put up with long downturns for a fleeting sense of thrill and excitement and hope. They put up with a lot because they feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. The past two years have shown just how misguided that belief is when it comes to professional golf. It’s not the PGA Tour vs. LIV; it’s them vs. us.

It shouldn’t be that way. That dynamic should be inverted. Many fans are obsessed with golf, and it is a sickness that has no cure. Yet for many golfers, the PGA Tour is not their love; it’s an outlet that allows them to enjoy their love. But unlike almost every other sport, golf can be consumed at the amateur and recreational level, and golfers can get their fix outside what’s on television or attending an event. That’s an important delineation, because fans don’t need the tour, but the tour sure as hell needs fans.

1248590732

Keyur Khamar

The good news is there’s hope. There are a number of astute players who hear and see you, who understand as bad as this craziness has been for them it’s worse for you. Mackenzie Hughes spoke about it eloquently earlier this year. Rory McIlroy has realized that the tour needs to be taking some of its direction from those outside the ropes, too. But it is a point that needs to be hammered home, which is what Collin Morikawa did on Tuesday. Morikawa went ahead and called out the very product that gives him his way of life and did so with an ease and candor that only comes when speaking the truth.

“At this point right now where we're at, it's a lot of money that we're playing for and I'm very thankful to be doing that, but I also see that we need more people to be interested in golf,” Morikawa said. “We need to make golf more intriguing to the viewers. How do we make broadcasting more approachable, how do we see more golf shots at the end of the day, right? I turn on golf on a Thursday if I play early, I turn it on and I see three golf shots and I question why. The reason why other sports are … [why] people pay [more] attention is because people see more, you can probably bet more. People like betting when you can watch it live, not watch it on ShotTracer.”

On the surface this may seem like a broadcasting complaint, and golf has long dealt with criticism toward its telecasts. But Morikawa is a smart cat and was well aware of his backdrop. The PGA Tour may have billions in investments lined up. If it fails to rebuild its equity with you, it will be worthless.