The PGA Tour is the modern day Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Professional Golfers Association provides the Big Tents and the World's Greatest Golfers put on the show. They travel from town to town, and the media barkers bring in the audience. All in all, it creates billions of dollars in revenues that are fed into the communities while hundreds of vendors make bank and the players get a sizable chunk off the top.
Don't get me wrong, like millions of fans, I am mesmerized by the skills the world's most talented players demonstrate. I am addicted to watching them perform magical tricks with a golf ball. In the past few decades, the PGA Tour has made hundreds of players multi-millionaires. So it is hard to understand why some of the world's richest golfers want to fix what isn't broken.
Like the NFL, the PGA Tour is considered a massive international business success but there have been some indications all is not well under the Big Tent. Recently, retired golfing legend Greg Norman announced he had accepted the position of CEO of a new worldwide league of premier golfers called LIV Golf. His organization is being underwritten by Saudi Arabian Public Investment Funds, which is essentially an arm of the Royal Saudi Family regime. Which not too long ago was accused of approving a mafia-style execution of a renowned journalist who was exposing political corruption within the wealthy royal group of families. Historically Saudi leaders have routinely broken western style rules of civility. Women are treated like second-class citizens and used for forced labor, and the government routinely executes "criminals" in the public square.
It has been reported that Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Sergio Garcia all received over $100M just to sign on. And that the tournament purses would average $25M and winners share usually exceed $3M. One critic, popular sports announcer Bob Costas, called LIV Golf purses "Blood Money". He said those that defect to Norman's circuit are greedy and reprehensible.
The result is a major rift between players, sponsors and the public. The sport that had for years enjoyed freedom from controversy, is suddenly embroiled in it.
The PGA immediately threatened any member who broke ranks with an indefinite suspension of playing privileges. They then embarked on a massive public relations campaign to spread defamatory claims that the LIV Golf enterprise was "Sportswashing'' by spreading around billions of Saudi cash to rebuild their image and deflect criticism.
As for the 'Blood Money' charge? The PGA has been involved in China for many years, and never mentioned any concern for the Muslim Uighurs that are being imprisoned, tortured and "re-educated" by the Chinese Communist government. Where is Costa's outrage over the NBA's deep involvement with Chinese consumer products manufacturers that routinely abuse child labor? China is the NBA's largest consumer market.
Norman rightly points out that Saudi money is invested across dozens of sports and industrial platforms. He asked FOX TV host Brian Kilmeade, "Why does the PGA Tour have 23 sponsors doing $45B in business with Saudi companies? Aramco (Saudi American Oil Company, the most valuable company in the world) is the largest sponsor of women's professional golf. The hypocrisy is out of this world!"
At the British Open Tiger Woods was asked to comment: “I think that what they’ve done is they’ve turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position."
They were forced to "turn their back". They have all expressed a desire to coexist!
Besides, whatever happened to competition, Tiger? You of all people understand that competition makes for better players and better products. Isn't competition a good thing, regardless of who "supports" it? Aren't we talking about a new circus putting up a different colored tent? Isn't it reasonable for independent contractors to be allowed to sell their service to whomever they choose? To accept payment even if it is out of proportion to their services provided? And who is to decide what price is "reasonable"?
The idea that a different form of professional golf competition, a variation on the traditional "Three Ring Circus" is by definition a betrayal of all that has gone before seems a little narrow minded. Maybe the other players just want more time with their family, or a chance to get more international experience. Their product will be significantly different, but more importantly, it seems presumptuous to think those players are too stupid to have made their decision without any awareness of the implications. They are adults, and not just animals on parade.
Remember, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after battling to survive at all, eventually joined forces to create the Greatest Show On Earth.