The PGA Tour is the largest professional golf circuit and by any measure an outstanding success thanks to former commissioner Deane Beman’s foresight and business acumen put on steroids by Tim Finchem, commissioner for 22 years and the present Commissioner Jay Monahan.
Last November a major expansion was announced when the European Tour needed additional funding. The PGA Tour made a sizeable investment initiating a new formal relationship characterized as a “strategic alliance.” That alliance is now evident with co-sponsored events in the 2021-2022 season.
It would seem almost certain that within a few years a full merger of the two tours is inevitable which along with the European Tour’s and PGA Tour’s present stable of professional circuits will mean a worldwide professional golf will be controlled by the headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The European Tour owns the Challenge Tour, a feeder series similar to the Korn Ferry Tour here in the states, and the Legends Tour like the PGA Tour Champions. They also have another prize attractive to the PGA Tour, namely the Ryder Cup the richest, most prestigious international golf event which is jointly owned with the PGA of America. Should the PGA Tour take over the European tour this would give them a say in the biennial competition, venue selection and most importantly the tens of millions of dollars the Cup generates.
The PGA Tour in addition to the PGA Tour Champions and the Korn Ferry Tour also owns the Forme Tour, Mackenzie Tour and PGA Tour LatinoAmérica and overall, their objective remains the same. Keep sponsorship and television rights money flowing. All that is required is the professional game continues to be attractive to corporations wanting access to the golf-fan demographic, typically those with discretionary income available to be spent on sponsor’s goods and services.
The PGA Tour-European Tour combination along with the other smaller tours is a giant step towards a world tour, an idea that is not exactly new. Indeed, until the travel challenges of the pandemic the PGA Tour held several events outside the United States including Mexico, the Caribbean, China, Japan and South Korea. Also, those with long memories will remember a world tour was proposed by Greg Norman back in 1994. It wasn’t a PGA Tour idea and received no support from Commissioner Finchem who at the time had just taken over from Beman.
The PGA Tour has been on a roll but like all things, good times don’t last forever. The business world changes and companies must keep up. In fact, the most successful organizations lead the changes.
Until now the PGA Tour has no direct competition and simply must continue to grow fan interest which to a large degree is a measure of the allure/charisma of the players and the quality of the competition. The Tour already does this exceedingly well with approximately $2 billion in annual revenue from broadcast rights, sponsorships, real estate development, resorts, and other sources. In everyday terms though the biggest impact is the over $200 million given to charities each year. This makes them the largest giver of all professional sports organizations plus goes a long way in generating support of local fans who attend events and serve as unpaid volunteers while making attention from the media a given.
The PGA Tour-European Tour strategic alliance is now co-sponsoring events starting with the European Tour Scottish Open and opening 50 spots in PGA Tour opposite-field events, the Barbasol and Barracuda Championships.
This is a strong competitive move reacting to the possible startup of one or perhaps two well-funded world tours drawn to the idea of a larger, more encompassing professional tournament series. Unfortunately, this would most likely dilute potential sponsorships, diminish charitable contributions and certainly act as a distraction for golf fans.
Competing tours are a bad idea and professional golf as represented by the PGA Tour has a critical job to create excitement and interest among consumers to grow the number of people who play the game. This should not be sidetracked nor victim of meaningless wrangles over equipment standard minutiae or revisions and interpretations of the playing rules. All can, and do, detract from golf’s positive image and visibility.