Golf

Premier Golf League CEO seeks meeting with PGA Tour commissioner to explain concept

The head of the proposed Premier Golf League is hoping to have a conversation with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and has reached out to him this week with hopes of explaining his concept.

Andy Gardiner, the CEO of the Premier Golf League, told ESPN an interview Wednesday that he’s been seeking such a meeting for two years.

“All we want is a conversation,” Gardiner said. “We’ve never been the enemy. But I can understand why we’ve been perceived as such. But we’d love to be friends. I’ve not had that opportunity so far. And I will be redoubling my efforts. We want to have a conversation in the best possible way to ensure they understand where we are coming from and why we are doing it and to ensure that nobody’s feelings will be hard done.”

The project is backed by British-based World Golf Group and the idea has been in the works for more than six years, with the basics being a 18-tournament schedule from January to August with 48 players in 54-hole tournaments that would begin in 2023.

Gardiner said there would also be women’s and junior components to the tour, which would typically be played Friday through Sunday, with the first two rounds played as a shotgun start and twosomes for the final round. The idea is to have 12 events in the U.S. and six others played internationally, with room for the major championships and Ryder Cup.

The big hook for possible players is $20 million weekly purses. Unlike the Saudi-backed Super League Golf, which made headlines last month when word came out about huge sign-on fees for the top players, the Premier Golf League — which at one time entertained the Saudis — is performance-based.

That said, with $150,000 minimums for finishing last per week, a player stands to earn at least $3 million per year, not including any team payouts.

Making this work with the PGA Tour is a huge sticking point. Despite Tour players being classified as independent contractors, they still are subject to regulations to be part of the PGA Tour. Among them is the Tour owning their media rights.

That means a player who wants to play in a competing event must get a release from the PGA Tour, or in essence, permission. When Phil Mickelson, for example, decided to play in the Saudi International in February as opposed to the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, he had to seek a release.

A player is typically granted three of these per year in return for meeting Tour obligations, which include playing a minimum of 15 events. To get more, in theory, other requirements would be asked.

Players such as Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, who are from Northern Ireland and Ireland, respectively, are allowed to play unlimited events in Europe on their “home” tour as long they maintain their 15-event minimum on the PGA Tour — a stipulation for which the Tour is quite strict.

In 2015, Germany’s Martin Kaymer — who had won the Players Championship and U.S. Open the year prior — lost his PGA Tour membership in 2016 because he had not met the 15-tournament minimum. He still had access to PGA Tour events via sponsor exemptions, but was limited to 12 total including the major championships. And he was not eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

It is difficult to envision the PGA Tour allowing someone to play 18 times on another circuit, as that is a requirement of the PGL.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the position is,” Gardiner said. “We have made an approach in the last 24 hours setting out our thoughts in the best possible way. We just want to have this conversation for these reasons and we think it’s workable.

“We will require those in the league to commit on a contractual basis as long as they are fit to play 18 in a season. We believe they are independent contractors, and as long as they turn up as required, we can assure them that this will be the best place. It’s been done in Formula One. It’s been done in tennis, other sports. Golf is one of the few sports left where fans and broadcasters and sponsors are left with a lottery as to who they are going to get.

“I do know the existing PGA Tour rules. The players will ultimately decide where they are going to play. There have been rumors of bans and not getting ranking points, but all individuals should have the right to choose how and when and where they work. These guys are professionals. If the PGA Tour changes its rules that allows them to remain members … we hope that would be feasible.”

For now, the PGA Tour is maintaining that any player who joins the PGL or the Super League Golf would lose their membership and face a possible ban.

It is also unclear how the Official World Golf Ranking would handle PGL events. Gardiner suggested that the major championships would want all of the best players, and thus might tailor their qualification criteria.

Gardiner, 49, is a London-based attorney who worked at a regulated investment management company that had dealings in golf. He long heralded the idea of a “world tour” that he said he was frustrated to never see come to pass.

At one point, he penned a 100-page document in which he put together his idea for a world tour in which the top players would compete against each other from week to week. That evolved into the Premier Golf League, which first surfaced publicly in January of 2020.

Gardiner said the group was not ready to go public at that time, and the coronavirus served to put it in the background. But sometime last year, the PGL entered into serious discussions with the European Tour about some sort of partnership – which was aborted when the PGA Tour and the European Tour formed a strategic alliance in November.

“It took a little moment to step back and reconsider our path,” Gardiner said. “It was at that moment that we began to work and put our timetable in place. We needed to let everyone know what we are about. Here we are. What motivates us. We started this as fans of the game and we are still massive fans of the game. We are only doing what we are doing because we believe it will be better long term for the league to exist. We went back and reapplied everything we learned.”

Among the changes were an increase in purses to $20 million per week and a player draft concept that will see the 48 players come from the 12 teams with owners who may or may not be players. There is also a 13th-team component that would see a fan-owned team that chooses players.

Unlike the PGA Tour, the PGL would own all of the tournaments. Instead of title sponsors, there would be various groupings of sponsors would in most cases be on board for all 18 tournaments.

Gardiner said that no deals have been struck with any players, venues or broadcast networks, although numerous conversations have taken place on all of those levels.

“To maintain confidences, I’ve never named individuals,” Gardiner said. “I can say the dialogue we’ve had with players or their agents has given us a strong cross section of our market and the answer is we’ve spoken to nearly everyone.”

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