Golf

Players returning from LIV Golf is part of Saudis' agreement with PGA Tour

The PGA Tour and European tour have agreed to work with Saudi backers of LIV Golf to decide how defectors to the rival league can return and what kind of punishment they should face, according to a framework agreement obtained by The Associated Press.

Framework agreement to decide how defectors can return, punishment they should face

A "LIV Golf" flag is shown blowing in the wind.
The PGA Tour and European tour have agreed to work with Saudi backers of LIV Golf to decide how defectors to the rival league can return according to a framework agreement obtained by The Associated Press on Monday. (Ian Maule/Getty Images/File)

The PGA Tour and European tour have agreed to work with Saudi backers of LIV Golf to decide how defectors to the rival league can return and what kind of punishment they should face, according to a framework agreement obtained by The Associated Press.

The agreement also said the for-profit company to be formed by the PGA Tour and the Saudis will be the "entity for professional golf" and that the tours will coexist with LIV Golf.

The framework agreement, signed on May 30, was among documents requested by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for a July 11 hearing in Washington. Blumenthal chairs the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

"Our goal is to uncover the facts about what went into the PGA Tour's deal with the Saudi Public Investment Fund and what the Saudi takeover means for the future of this cherished American institution and our national interest," Blumenthal said last week.

The PGA Tour has said it would participate, though it was not clear if Commissioner Jay Monahan would attend. He stepped away on June 13 — one week after the stunning deal was announced — for a "medical situation" and turned day-to-day operations over to two executives.

LIV Golf returns this week in Spain and at least finishes the 2023 season, if not beyond. The agreement says the PGA Tour and European tour "will work cooperatively and in good faith to establish a fair and objective process for any players who desire to re-apply for membership ... and for determining fair criteria and terms of readmission consistent with each Tour's disciplinary policies."

WATCH | PGA-LIV Golf merger, explained:

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The PGA Tour suspended players once they competed in a LIV event because they did not have releases required under the tour's policy. The suspensions are believed to be at least through the 2024 season.

The AP previously reported on the assurances in the agreement that the tour would keep a controlling interest in the new commercial entity — known for now as "NewCo" — regardless of how much the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia contributes.

The framework agreement sent to Blumenthal is lacking details that all three sides are still trying to work out, such as the future of LIV Golf.

It did not mention how much the PIF planned to invest in the new entity. The PGA Tour and DP World Tour — the commercial name of the European tour — are contributing all their commercial businesses and rights. NewCo would be an umbrella for all future golf-related investments of the three groups.

NewCo is to conduct an "objective empirical data-driven evaluation of LIV and its prospects and potential" and assess the benefits of team golf and then decide "how best to integrate team golf into PGA Tour and DP World Tour events going forward," the agreement says.

Monahan, as CEO of the new entity, would determine the plan and strategy of NewCo operations, which would include LIV.

The second paragraph of the six-page agreement referred to the Saudi fund and two leading tours creating a global golf partnership and "unifying the game." It later mentions the new entity's plan to create financial returns, "including through targeted mergers and acquisitions to globalize the sport."

The PGA Tour and European tour already have an alliance, and other tours such as Japan and South Africa have similar agreements. The Asian Tour is affiliated with LIV Golf.

Tours, PIF working together to recognize LIV Golf in official rankings

The agreement also says the tours and the PIF would work together to try to get the Official World Golf Ranking to recognize LIV Golf, though that would be subject to OWGR criteria and the application that LIV filed last July. LIV fails to meet several criteria, in part because its events have no cuts and 48-man fields.

The PIF, along with investing in the new commercial entity, would make a financial investment as a "premier corporate sponsor" of the PGA Tour or European tour, invest in becoming a title sponsor on one of the tours and contribute to a program geared toward growing the game.

The agreement also laid out a timeline to reach a definitive deal by Dec. 31. If it's not done by then, the parties can agree to extend the deadline or go back to business as usual.

A key part of the agreement was to dismiss all litigation — the antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour and the tour's countersuit against LIV Golf in which the PIF was a co-defendant. A federal judge in California dismissed those lawsuits last week.

The PGA Tour board has a previously scheduled meeting Tuesday in Detroit, though board members are not expected to take any actions because so many details have yet to be worked out. Also, the Justice Department is still examining the agreement, part of a review that began last summer shortly after LIV Golf launched.

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