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PGA Tour will maintain full control of its circuit in proposed agreement with Saudis, commissioner Jay Monahan says

August 22, 2023
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PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan speaks at the Tour Championship.

Tracy Wilcox

ATLANTA — The framework agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has consumed so much of commissioner Jay Monahan’s schedule that there has been no spare time to actually play golf. He didn’t tee up during 33 days of medical leave he took to deal with anxiety, nor since his July 17 return to commissioner duties. “I’ve blown out to a six handicap,” Monahan, a former four handicap, said with a laugh after addressing media at the Tour Championship.

It was Monahan’s first public press conference since his return, and reporters were keen to know the progress on the framework deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which finances LIV Golf. Monahan’s 45-minute address had plenty of words, and a positive undertone, but few details. His opening remarks were 14 minutes long.

“I know I'm talking lot here, but I haven't seen you guys in a while,” he said.

Monahan has been in multiple discussions each week with the PIF. On June 6, the PGA Tour entered into a framework deal with the Saudi sovereign fund to immediately drop litigation between the two parties and create a new for-profit company, called PGA Tour Enterprises, in which the PIF will be a minority investor. The deal’s deadline, which can be extended, is Dec. 31.

“Right now my focus is on the negotiations with PIF,” Monahan said, adding the tour’s chief operating officer, Ron Price, and executive vice president and president of the tour, Tyler Dennis, have also been in those discussions. “That's where all my energy and attention is. But I think given the amount of attention that our framework agreement has received, and in particular the fact that we've created a NewCo [new company] … I think the realization that there is an entity that can be invested into at the PGA Tour and the uniqueness of being able to invest into a professional sports league of the caliber, quality and sustainability of the PGA Tour, obviously has generated a lot of interest.”

It has also generated doubt within professional golf as to whether the deal would get done. Mainly, because the PGA Tour is adamant that despite the PIF pouring money into the new entity, the tour will maintain operational control.

“If you saw the amount of conversation and the time that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and PIF are spending working forward from a framework to a definitive, I think would you see the sincerity of the efforts there,” Monahan said. “The PGA Tour [will have] PIF as a minority investor in NewCo, [and] full-board governance and operational control of the tour and ultimately the men's professional game moving forward,” Monahan said. “Given the fact that there’s frequency of talks, we’re probably right where I would expect that we would be. But there’s an intensity and there’s an urgency and there’s a lot of good work that’s being done. I am confident that we will reach an agreement that achieves a positive outcome for the PGA Tour and our fans. I see it and I'm certain of it.”

Added Dennis: “It progresses daily, and it's very positive and collaborative in nature.”

But what exactly is a positive outcome? Is it ensuring LIV Golf, and its 14-event schedule featuring shotgun starts and a team component, ultimately folds? Or that its top recruits such as major winners Cameron Smith, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka return to the PGA Tour via some sort of penalty? Monahan couldn’t answer.

“I appreciate your question; these are the kind of topics and discussions that we're having right now with PIF,” he said. “When we complete our discussions, we'll have an answer for that question. That's a non-answer, but that's my position.”

What he could answer was what the PGA Tour would do with the PIF money should the framework agreement go ahead.

“Use the capital to be able to invest back in our product,” he said. “Like further reduce commercial inventory in our broadcast, further invest in our data businesses, further invest in our media business, potentially invest in entities and companies that we think are going to help us grow and diversify our fan base and the game.”

Monahan added that Netflix’s debut golf series, “Full Swing,” had also helped grow the fan base of the PGA Tour. The drama of this season as fuel for the series’ second season is not lost on him.

“I fully acknowledge that this hasn't been an easy road … but ultimately I really do feel very strongly about the result we're going to have,” he said.