Business Plus

LIV And Let Live

If golf’s new upstart can find a high-end market for its events while the big tournament­s on the traditiona­l tours control the main story of the sport, then peace can reign once more

- ROB HARTNETT Rob Hartnett is the founder of Sport for Business, a publishing, events and networking business at the heart of the commercial world of Irish sport.

The 150th Open Golf championsh­ip at St Andrews last month represente­d everything that is good about the sport, from the iconic and historic venue to the mental strength of the participan­ts through to an audience on site in Scotland that rose through the week to a total of 290,000. But within moments of Cameron Smith’s win and celebratio­n, the shadow that has been the arrival of LIV Golf was cast once more.

Rumour swirled of Smith’s potential defection from the traditiona­l fields of the game’s historic powerhouse­s in the PGA and DP World Tour towards the new kid on the block backed by seemingly limitless funding supplied by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund. With the aggressive signing of some of the sport’s top stars for tens of millions of dollars, LIV Golf has become the ultimate disruptor.

At the highest level of the four Majors in the men’s game, and five in the Women’s game, golf attracts an audience that is sizeable and well heeled. The money involved in backing an event on the US PGA Tour starts at $10m and escalates quickly. A look at the brands that sponsor tournament­s — from Mercedes-Benz to Rolex, and major finance to pharma corporatio­ns — tells a story, as does the enormous prize money on offer to the players.

Cameron Smith’s last tournament win before the Open was at The Players Championsh­ip earlier this year. The prize money for that event in 2023 will be €25m. Sixty five golfers currently playing have earned more than that sum from prize money through their careers, including Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy. However, now the golden circle that has endured for decades is under threat from the Saudi-backed challenger fronted by Greg Norman.

LIV Golf has shaken up formats by having limited field events that are played over 54 holes (thus the Latin numerals ‘LIV’) and three days as opposed to 72 holes over four days. The players all tee off at the same time, shortening the action from almost 16 hours of live play at St Andrews to only four hours when they teed up at the Donald Trump owned Bedminster course in New Jersey at the end of July.

The LIV prize money on offer is either fantastic, ridiculous or obscene, depending on your point of view.

Having lived for a time in the Middle East, my guess is that LIV Golf is not going to go away any time soon, and that it will find a place on the sporting landscape.

Rory McIlroy spoke for many golf fans with his condemnati­on of the new arrival, as did Tiger Woods, who was reported to have been offered $1bn to take part. Sport without jeopardy is just an exhibition, and that is what has been served to the relatively small attendance­s at the first LIV Golf events.

There is a danger that if more top players go over, both sides might lose by damaging the narrative of the sport and ultimately reducing its appeal. Imagine two All-Ireland championsh­ips with Dublin playing in one and Kerry in another, or two Premier Leagues where Liverpool and Manchester City never get to compete against each other.

In a high-stakes poker game, both sides are showering a small amount of profession­al sportspeop­le with massive money. The PGA has responded to the LIV threat by increasing price funds at its tournament­s, and the prize money pool for eight of the top tournament­s in the US in 2023 will be $54m more than this year.

Sport is compelling when the best compete against the best. That should remain the end game for all involved once the initial heat has cooled. If LIV Golf finds a high-end market for its limited number of events but the big tournament­s on the PGA and DP World Tour continue to control the main story of the sport, then peace can reign once more.

 ?? ?? LIV Golf would like Open winner Cameron Smith to join its ranks
LIV Golf would like Open winner Cameron Smith to join its ranks
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