New Professional Golf Tour Sparks Controversy

LIV Golf, a new professional golf tour, has sparked controversy as it attempts to modernize the sport of golf, luring viewers away from the Professional Golf Association (PGA) in the process.

The Saudi Arabia Private Investment Fund-owned league has a brand new take on golf, allowing for a more relaxed dress code of shorts, polos and flashy colors — clothing items not allowed in the PGA — smaller fields, background music and the introduction of teams in addition to individual competition.

LIV’s faster-paced format caught the eye of fans. It introduced the “shotgun start” to the professional golf sphere, requiring every player to start on a different hole, rather than the traditional format of starting on holes one and 10. This significantly shortens playing time by up to five hours every day, allowing for fans to watch tournaments in their entirety. Due to the longevity of their events, the PGA typically does not televise them in their entirety. This can prevent fans from being able to watch their favorite golfers, especially if they are cut from the tournament or television. LIV has no mid-tournament cuts (taking only the top 70 golfers after 36 holes), allowing every participant to play until the end of the tournament. 

In order to grow their organization and gain a following, LIV has used the promise of higher payments to lure star players away from the PGA, attracting both the players and their fans. Two-time major champion Dustin Johnson was guaranteed as much as $150 million across a four-year period, excluding additional tournament winnings, according to ESPN, but lost his Adidas partnership and any opportunity to return to the PGA. While playing in the PGA, Johnson made $74.8 million over the course of his 14 years. Professional golfer Tiger Woods was also offered a $700-to-$800 million contract from LIV but opted to stay with the PGA. In response to the new tour, the PGA created 17 “elevated events” that offer bigger prize pools, averaging $20 million in comparison to the average LIV prize pool of $25 million. 

The new tour has received mixed opinions from golf fans.

Due to LIV being funded by the Saudi Arabian government’s investment fund, LIV has been the subject of significant controversy due to Saudi Arabia’s history with human rights’ violations. For these reasons, many groups such as the National Press Club are calling on fans “to reject [LIV]. Do not attend. Do not watch it on television. Let it fail.”

“The players, with the exception of Harold Varner [III], are all lying to themselves about why they joined,” said history teacher and avid golfer Steven Burr. “They clearly just joined for the money.” 

In an Instagram post, Varner, a two-time PGA tournament champion who recently joined LIV, wrote: “The opportunity to join LIV Golf is simply too good of a financial breakthrough for me to pass by. I know what it means to grow up without much. This money is going to ensure that my kid and future Varners will have a solid base to start on — and a life I could have only dreamt about growing up.”

Girls Varsity Golf team captain Chloe Rahn, a senior, said she thinks that LIV prioritizes their fans more than the PGA does.

However, she added that she believes future golf players will choose to play on the PGA Tour rather than with LIV. 

“I feel like the future is very bright for the PGA Tour, and [the] majority of college players are definitely on board with the PGA Tour,” she said. 

Burr agrees with Rahn, saying that he doesn’t think LIV will succeed.

“I don’t think that there’s anything you could do to beat the tradition like the PGA and the history of it,” he said. “I kind of look at LIV as like the Harlem Globetrotters of golf. It’s not really competitive-competitive; it’s more entertainment.”

Burr added: “Ultimately, at the end of the day, I think [LIV has] probably helped improve the PGA product, and any kind of competition is going to try and force you to respond and adapt. There needed to be something to kind of poke the bear to get them to change. Obviously, LIV has done that.”