Global Tour Threatens To Poach Top Pros From PGA, Europe

The often-talked-about, but rarely-realistic idea of a global professional golf tour seems more real than ever after news reports over the past four days have detailed real traction coming from an entity called the “Premier Golf League.”

First reported by Geoff Shackelford on his personal site, the Premier Golf League — originally referred to as the World Golf Series in Shackelford’s reporting — is making “another fervent bid” to poach top players from the PGA and European Tours to compete in what is reported as an 18-event schedule that features 48-player fields competing over the course of 54 holes with no cut and a $10 million purse up for grabs.

“(The global tour idea) seems to resurface at different times,” Mark Steinberg, agent to the likes of Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar, told Shackelford. “It’s obviously resurfacing right now. We’ll see if they take it to the next level.”

According to Shackelford, financial backing for the big-money circuit is coming from “Tokyo-based Softbank, and private equity investment from several regions including the United States and the Middle East.”

The league, which has set its sights on kicking off in 2022 or 2023, would have severe repercussions on the PGA and European Tours should it be successful as members of those events need specific Tour-issued permission to compete outside of Tour events.

While these requests are routinely granted for players playing across both Tours, they are usually only requested in small portions and agreed upon with an understanding that the player — typically of high-profile in nature — will compete in another Tour event as a sort of good-faith accord.

An 18-event release would seem to be counterproductive for any Tour to approve, meaning that defections would be likely. The increased attention the PGL has garnered prompted PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to travel from Ponte Vedra Beach to San Diego and “engaged in substantial discussion with players about the pitfalls of the concept,” according to Shackelford.

With word spreading about the ramped-up conversations, a number of high-profile players in the field at the Farmers Insurance Open were asked about the league, whether they have been approached and what their thoughts were on the idea, among them Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy, as usual, offered a candid and thoughtful answer.

“Those guys have been talking to a few of us for six years,” McIlroy said, according to GolfDigest.com’s Daniel Rapaport. “They approached me at the end of 2014. 

“You know, it’s a hard one. I love the PGA Tour, but these guys have exploited a couple of holes in the system, the way golf at the highest level is nowadays and how it’s sort of transitioned from a competition tour to entertainment. Right? It’s on TV, it’s people coming out to watch. It’s definitely a different time than what it was before. But I love the PGA Tour, I love the way golf is set up right now. So it might be the catalyst for something a little bit different out here as well, who knows.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to lose what’s been built in the last 40 or 50 years. Tournaments like (Torrey Pines), tournaments like Riviera in a couple weeks’ time, everything that we have gotten to know and love over the years. I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward. But I think, as I said, it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward and, you know, reward the top players the way they should be, I guess.”

As for Mickelson, he took a more guarded approach, but allowed that he was “intrigued” by the idea.

“I’m curious, but I don’t know enough to talk about it,” Mickelson said Friday, according to Bob Harig of ESPN.com. “I’m listening to it. I think it’s intriguing, but I just don’t know enough about it to comment publicly. I hope to learn more.”

For Mickelson as a soon-to-be 50-year-old, the team aspect that would allow older superstars to stay involved via ownership stakes would appeal to him.

“The group is retaining a Formula One-style team component, complete with managers and potential drama surrounding players who are signed, benched or released from franchises,” Shackelford reported. “Those franchises, offered to a group of megastar players who could retain ownership past their playing days, would be capable of generating an “equity value between $350 and 750 million” along with a 4% of annual net profit.”