There has never been a year in professional golf quite like 2022, with various tours making pitches to players, tours buying up other tours and tours we didn’t even know existed creating headlines (Read: MENA Tour). But in the wake of a line being drawn in the sand between players, the same has seemingly happened among tours.
The PGA Tour and DP World Tour announced Tuesday a partnership with the Japan Golf Tour Organization that will ensure the top three players on the Japan Tour will earn DP World Tour membership the following season. This comes as a quasi-extension of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour’s strategic alliance that has pitted them in a war against LIV Golf, the upstart tour funded largely by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
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Moving forward, 10 players from the DP World Tour will be earning membership on the PGA Tour as well, creating a top-down structure in which the PGA Tour sits atop the food chain, with the DP World Tour sitting above the Japan circuit. This complements what is already a hierarchical system on the PGA Tour. The best players from PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica have always graduated up to the Korn Ferry Tour, and likewise from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour.
Is the new relationship between the PGA Tour, the DPWT and the JPGO a perfect, top-down global hierarchy, though? Not exactly.
Its shape could look much more like a graphic flow chart than a pyramid. Top players that play largely on the Japan tour might be able to make a more direct jump to the Korn Ferry Tour or similarly established playing opportunities. But on paper, there is a clear upward mobility path between tours, unlike anything that existed five years ago.
At the same time, there is LIV Golf, fighting for its own piece of relevancy and for the best players on the planet. Before the LIV Golf League was ever a thing, LIV Golf Investments had made a $300 million commitment to the Asian Tour, creating an International Series of events through which various players played their way onto the LIV Golf Invitational series that played out this summer. Scott Vincent, the 90th-ranked player in the OWGR, played well enough in the International Series to earn a one-time bid to play LIV’s full schedule in 2023. With this structure, it would appear the relationship between LIV Golf and the Asian Tour is somewhat akin to that of the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. But, of course, things go much deeper.
Elsewhere in the land-grab of pro golf, LIV Golf established a strategic alliance of its own with the unheralded MENA Tour. That’s the Middle East and North African Tour. The MENA Tour announced the alliance two months ago as LIV Golf pushed to earn Official World Ranking Points from its event in Bangkok. LIV had not yet — and still has not — earned a way toward guaranteeing points for its 48-player, 54-hole events, and it saw a partnership with the MENA Tour as a means to that end. It didn’t work, and both tours have been limited in announcing the extent of their alliance since.
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In an amicable golf world, these hierarchies might be able to coexist just fine. But in 2022 the golf world has not been amicable. Immediately upon LIV Golf’s first tee shots in June, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan suspended every Tour member in the field. In August, LIV golfers filed a lawsuit that LIV Golf itself eventually joined, alleging antitrust claims against the Tour as LIV entered the marketplace.
A major claim of the antitrust suit is LIV’s allegation that the PGA Tour and DP World Tour have used their alliance to work together in a “group boycott” to encourage other bodies in the industry to not work with LIV Golf. Another complaint from LIV involves the PGA Tour allegedly telling the Japan Tour that if it aligned with LIV Golf, its members would not be allowed to play in PGA Tour events. Whether or not that is true will be determined through the discovery process in a Northern California district court.
The trial hearing is scheduled for January 2024. By the time that arrives, we may even have new strategic alliances to talk about.