Golf: with the “Saudi league”, tensions on the greens



The case has been brewing for months and has the golf world in turmoil. It materializes from Thursday, June 9 on the side of London, exactly on the course of the Centurion Club of Saint Albans. Forty-eight golfers will take part in a tournament inaugurating the LIV Golf Invitational Series, in other words for its detractors the “Saudi league”. History to emphasize what it is.

In this case, a new circuit of eight meetings this year, with a simplified formula deemed more attractive. The initiative is carried by the former Australian champion Greg Norman, 67, world number one in the 1980s and 1990s, and above all financed by the public investment fund of Saudi Arabia. Who does not mind the expense. A rain of petrodollars sprinkles the greens: more than 23 million euros in prize money at each stage of the new league, more than double the bonuses distributed by the traditional “major” tournaments. Which, all in all, guarantees more than a million euros even to the last of the participants!

A rain of petrodollars

And that’s not all. To obtain the arrival of stars of the discipline, Saudi Arabia did not skimp: more than 125 million euros offered, for example, to Dustin Johnson, current world No. 13 and former winner of the Augusta Masters (in 2020 ). A similar figure is mentioned for the giant Phil Mickelson (45 victories including 6 majors), who confirmed on Twitter on Tuesday June 7 that he would be fine at the start in London, he who had been shunning the courses since the start of the year. What about Tiger Woods? The American was approached, but he reportedly refused a deal ” huge “, “very high nine figures”has just ensured Greg Norman at the washington post.

In total, of the 48 players seduced by the Saudi proposals, around twenty are in the world top 100. The overpowering American circuit, the PGA, but also the European Tour are gray. The PGA has already been threatening applicants with heavy fines and bans on its competitions for weeks. The future should therefore belong to the lawyers, who rub their hands.

“The Saudis invest in golf as in the Rafale”

But what is Saudi Arabia looking for on the green lawn? “Like the other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia has colossal resources and sees sport as a weaponsummarizes Raphaël Le Magoariec, specialist in the sports policy of the Gulf States at the University of Tours. The Saudis invest in golf as in the Rafale, and, to fit quickly into a sports system in which they are behind in relation to Qatar or Abu Dhabi, they spend lavishly. »

Golf is a target of choice. “It’s easier to get into it than in football for example, where the takeover of a club like Newcastle in 2021 is more complicated because there is a history, a culture that is not easily swallowedcontinues the researcher. There, Saudi Arabia speaks directly to players whose main motivation, assumed, is money. It’s easier. And the economic interest of golf is major: it is the discipline that most interests the business community. »

A showdown with traditional institutions

Traditional institutions precisely want to assert something other than this story of big money. “I have been fighting for years for golf to rid itself of its elitist image, and there, we are still only talking about doughplague Pascal Grizot, the president of the French Golf Federation (FFG). The sums involved are indecent, and players should not forget that they have formed in small tournaments which only exist thanks to the money of the PGA or the European Tour, to multiple actors united and accustomed to working together. Saudi Arabia arrives without respecting the codes. This is bad taste and a serious error. »

The boss of the FFG says to himself ” alongside “ of the PGA and the European Tour, without however sharing the strategy of confrontation that the PGA favors for the time being. “I think we have to talk to the Saudis rather than brandishing sanctionsasks Pascal Grizot. These are people who want to put a lot of money into golf, and we should all be able to sit down around a table to consider the best for our sport rather than competitive circuits where players are scattered and who are not what viewers want. »

However, this is hardly the time for appeasement. The PGA brandishes its stick. On Twitter, Phil Mickelson evokes “a new start on another path”. Greg Norman on his facet side: “We are proud to launch a new era for golf. » Top start then and may the best win… or everyone lose.

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New tournaments, new formula

The new circuit, inaugurated in London before stages until October in the United States (five different sites), Thailand (Bangkok) and Saudi Arabia (Jeddah), also intends “to modernize and revitalize professional golf”, according to its promoters. Who propose to dust off the classic formula of the four-day and 72-hole tournament, with a “cut” after two days which eliminates a certain number of participants. The stages of the Saudi LIV Golf concentrate the tournament on three days and 54 holes, without cut, and with departures in “shotgun”, that is to say simultaneous on all the holes of the course.

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