Here's what a unified, global professional golf tour could look like
Viktor Hovland hits a drive during the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club.
The idea of a unified global circuit in professional golf is far from a novel concept, yet it mostly existed on the sport’s backburner as a cognitive exercise rather than a reality that could be achieved. The advent of LIV Golf and the strategic alliance between the PGA and DP World Tours, however, has brought that idea to the forefront, especially following the PGA Tour’s partnership with private equity and the possibility of a deal with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Some of the game’s leaders are publicly championing for a global circuit to come to fruition, and in this new world order of golf the only constraints are imagination.
“Going forward, if everything is on the table, venues have to be a big part of the consideration,” Rory McIlroy told Golf Digest’s John Huggan last month. “We need to make sure the courses are worthy of the players who are going to be competing. My dream scenario is a world tour, with the proviso that corporate America has to remain a big part of it all. Saudi Arabia, too. That’s just basic economics. But there is an untapped commercial opportunity out there. Investors always want to make a return on their money. Revenues at the PGA Tour right now are about $2.3 billion. So how do we get that number up to four or six? To me, it is by looking outward. They need to think internationally and spread their wings a bit.”
But what would a more international schedule look like? We put together a blueprint for a 22-event global circuit, one that would serve as an elevated series of sorts to the sport’s professional circuits in the same vein as the former World Golf Championship events. Meaning, these would not replace the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, LIV Golf, etc., but work in conjunction with them. The operative word is “international,” for one of the many failures of the WGCs was forgetting what the “W” stood for, with almost all of the competitions eventually becoming American-centric. Our theoretical league tries its best to visit as many regions as possible, both those where golf is already loved and where it has a chance to grow.
We followed a cadence of two tournaments per month, with the understanding that a player has no minimum requirement for appearances. If a region already has a prominent place on a schedule (the Masters in April, the Ryder Cup in the fall) we tried to keep it within the same time frame. And, like McIlroy mentioned, venues matter, so—save for a few instances—if we’re traveling around the world, we’re going to make those travels worth it by visiting the best courses the regions have to offer. Here is our framework for a global, unified professional tour.
January: The Middle East, India
Dubai is already on the golf map, as the DP World Tour has three tournaments scattered across its schedule in the region, including its season finale. It is far from perfect; the course architecture tends to be resort-y and forgettable. Yet the sport needs a presence in the Middle East and Dubai has the infrastructure, facilities and thirst to make it a worthwhile destination … India surpassed China last year as the most populous country in the world. Due to the nation’s extreme poverty rates, it’s not viewed as a great untapped market as its population numbers suggest. Conversely, there’s still a potential audience that’s mostly being ignored, to say nothing of the fact that golf can be used as a force for good. Like Dubai, India is already on the Euro Tour schedule with the Indian Open, although the tournament is skipped by most of the DP World Tour’s talent and no American stars have made the trip in some time. However, the tournament has a zealous backer in Hero Motor Corps. (which also sponsors Tiger Woods’ exhibition event) and the megacity of Delhi boasts a half-dozen venues that could serve as hosts. Similar to Dubai, architectural aficionados will be disappointed with what’s on display, but a stop in India is a smart long term investment for the game.
Riviera Country Club is one of the most iconic venues on the PGA Tour.
February: South America, Riviera/Pebble Beach
Argentina has a rich golf history and has over 300 courses scattered across the country, yet the sport at large has mostly ignored the it, save for a few visits from the PGA Tour Americas minor-league circuit. Sticking in South America, Brazil is loaded with potential, but the game is underdeveloped there despite a population of 250 million and the fact golf made its return to the Olympics outside Rio in 2016. Augusta National, the USGA and R&A have made strides with the Latin America Amateur Championship in promoting the game, but it’s time golf takes that effort to the professional level, which is why our new circuit will have a rotating tournament between Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro. … Speaking of rotating, the PGA Tour has two crown jewels on the West Coast Swing in Pebble Beach and Riviera. We briefly toyed with putting both of these stops on the new circuit, but California is already overrepresented on the PGA Tour as is (with six different events last year alone). Rather than pitting these two gems against each other, they will be used in a joint venture, with a California event going back-and-forth between Monterey and Los Angeles.
The Players could become a more international event in the future.
March: Texas, Players Championship
The emphasis on the Middle East, India and South America tour stops are market potential, and as an upshot the quality of venue takes a backseat. We don’t have that problem in Texas, which is not short on courses that are sound from a design and aesthetic standpoint while also having the needed infrastructure to host a pro event. Our Texas event will have a rota of the Dallas metroplex (Colonial, Trinity Forest), Houston (Bluejack National, Memorial Park) and Austin (Austin C.C.). The quirky nature of Austin C.C. was perfect for match play but could be a bit more problematic in stroke, and Bluejack might be a bit too easy for pros, which is why we’re proposing this event use the Stableford scoring system to make things interesting. … Buy-in from the PGA Tour is imperative for a global circuit, and if the tour’s involved it will want the Players to be a marquee event. The only modification will be making its field more open to other circuits, meaning the top 10 finishers on the Order of Merit get in along with exemptions for Australasia, Japan, Sunshine and, yes, LIV Golf tours.
April: The Masters, Mexico
No need to waste words on the obvious: A circuit without the Masters doesn’t mean much. … A large portion of the golf in Mexico is constrained to resorts. With so much land, and a population of 130 million people (10th most in the world), there’s so much room for the sport to grow. Clearly, other professional sports see this too, which is why the NBA and NFL have hosted games in Mexico in recent years. For golf to take advantage there needs to be a yearly tournament in the heart of the country. Because, while Los Cabos and Playa del Carmen may have more beautiful backdrops, skipping Mexico City’s populace seems like a miss. It only had a four-year run as host of a WGC but Club de Golf Chapultepec outside Mexico City proved to be a charming venue capable of facilitating drama and producing proven winners. It’s also a good spot to revitalize the recently sidelined Match Play event. One sentiment that hurt the last iteration of Match Play is its proximity to the Masters; by moving it after Augusta, the format is not seen as a possible detriment to Masters prep. And though this format instills a pressure that stroke play often lacks, a late-April Match Play could be enticing as an assimilation back into a competitive mindset after the inevitable post-Masters malaise.
Brooks Koepka is the reigning PGA champion.
Kevin C. Cox
May: PGA Championship, Canadian Open
The Canadian Open has got the shaft in recent years, as it’s been moved around on the tour schedule changes while the country’s health and safety protocols during the pandemic kept the tournament from being played. Putting it on the global circuit ensures a good field for one of the most storied events in golf. … There’s going to be a lot of talk over the next few months (maybe even years) about PGA Tour Enterprises circling the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup as possible assets under its umbrella. Whether that happens or not, it would be interesting to see the PGA Championship becoming a major that travels outside the United States. Australia has long been cited as a country warranting major championship golf, but the same could be said for France, Spain and Japan. While it has long shed its “black sheep” stigma among the majors, the PGA—compared to its Big 4 brethren—remains searching for an identity. Making the Wanamaker Trophy go global allows the championship to finally realize what it is, and to get out of the shadow of the Masters and U.S. Open.
June: U.S. Open
There are a few reasons for the U.S. Open as the only tentpole June event. The first is the Canadian Open could bleed into the first weekend of June. Second, the U.S. Open is the brute of majors, the one that is prone to breaking scorecards and bullying players. While the Travelers Championship has carved out a niche of sorts by serving as friendly confines in the week-after spot, let’s give our globetrotters some time off from elevated/mandated events. Especially since they will be hit with a three-week stretch in July …
July: Irish Open, Scottish Open, Open Championship
We advocated last summer for the PGA Tour to host a links swing, and this falls along the same premise. Historically, the Irish Open and Scottish Open have preceded the Open Championship, and when played at the proper venues the Irish and Scottish serve as a two-week Open Championship primer to both players and fans. However, issues with sponsorship, fields, the DP World Tour schedule, infrastructure and attendance have kept the Irish and Scottish Opens from consistently visiting the best links courses each country has to offer, instead defaulting to hosts that are seeking exposure or relevance. Financial backing from a global circuit could return past Irish Open hosts like Lahinch, Ballyliffin and Portmarnock into the rotation, along with Royal County Down—arguably the best links in the world and host of four Irish Opens. As for the Scottish, Gullane has been a past Scottish Open favorite and certainly has the property to host again, and there’s the case that the global circuit should shoot its shot and attempt to get North Berwick’s West Links into the mix. The links may be somewhat on the easier side for the world’s best but it’s so full of character and romanticism that fans won’t worry about the low scores.
England's Wentworth is the yearly host of the BMW PGA Championship.
August: Europe, Wentworth
Ideally, the Europe event would rotate between a number of countries like France, Spain and Germany, and the focus isn’t so much potential courses as it is the markets they are in, similar to how the NFL, NBA and now Major League Baseball are tapping into these regions by bringing regular-season contests to Europe. Might we suggest France's Morfontaine? (Yes, we know it's short. Yes, we know it's exclusive. We'll make it work.) In a related note, the PGA Tour might be wondering why the global circuit skips the United States during the summer months. It’s no secret that European players and officials are wondering what exactly the DP World Tour is receiving from the PGA Tour in the strategic alliance, especially now that the PGA Tour has the SSG backing along with contemplating a Saudi offer that the PGA Tour convinced the DP World Tour not to take. Bringing two more European events—including the DP World Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth—won’t totally assuage hurt and bruised egos, but it’s a start.
Europe celebrates winning the 2023 Ryder Cup.
September: Ryder Cup/World Cup, Tour Championship
No offense to the Presidents Cup, but it’s a spitting format image of the Ryder Cup, and in the latter’s off-years we want something a bit more inclusive. Reviving the World Cup allows all countries to get in the mix, and permits the global circuit to travel to regions that currently don’t have a spot on the schedule (such as Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, etc.) … As for the Tour Championship—which, under our proposal, becomes a fusion of the best from the PGA Tour’s regular season along with the best from the global circuit—we are moving it from its East Lake confines to make it a traveling tournament. This helps the tour rectify the fact that it has no presence in big cities such as New York, Boston or Chicago, while also bestowing a chance to get creative in how it presents its season finale. For example, imagine the Tour Championship (with a field of 50 golfers) at Bandon! First three days are stroke play at Trails, Old Mac and Pacific. The top eight move to match play (with top seeds picking their opponent) with the quarters at Sheep Ranch and semis/championship at Bandon Dunes. Any playoff goes to the Preserve. The Tour Championship should feel like a celebration, and because professional golf is mostly a television product, reward the fans who have watched all year long with something that gets them excited.
Sungjae Im of South Korea is one of the most prominent PGA Tour players from Asia.
October: South Korea, Japan
Japan is the second-largest golf market in the world, accounting for roughly 20 percent of all golf-related business. Korea is right behind in third. Hirono G.C. is a masterpiece featuring some of the most dynamic greens in the world, and though it has hosted many of Japan’s top tournaments it is more than worthy of a global gathering despite its relative lack of length. South Korea is not short on viable venues, highlighted by Wellington C.C and Nine Bridges. … It’s worth noting one of the reasons LIV Golf and rogue leagues were fun thought exercises is because the professional game had fallen into stasis. A lot of this has to do with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour’s subservience to their respective points and money lists, putting 72-hole stroke play as a top priority to determine the winners of said lists which in turn benches creativity with different formats. A global circuit would not have the same strings attached, which is why the Korean and Japan spots could serve as logical hosts for mixed events. Ten of the top 22 women in the Rolex Rankings have Asian backgrounds and the women’s game is just as big of a draw, if not bigger, than the men in South Korea. A mixed event is not just a fun experiment; it could be a roadmap for future competitions for other professional tours around the world.
The 2019 Presidents Cup was played at Royal Melbourne.
November: Australia, South Africa
Australia is a pro golf-starved continent and one that’s been an underutilized asset by the game; it should be no surprise that LIV Golf’s most successful event to date has been Down Under, and arguably the most memorable Presidents Cups have been played at Royal Melbourne (inarguably a top-10 course in the world). The best way to get Australia onto the global circuit? Make the Australian Open a major championship with Royal Melbourne its annual host. … South Africa has six events on the DP World Tour schedule and produces some of the best golfers in the world. Given the DP World Tour usually swings through in late November to early December, elevating the South African Open—one of the oldest national championships in the sport—is an easy call.