Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s essentially what the proposed Premier Golf League (PGL) needs to figure out if it hopes to make good on its lofty goals.
Plans for the PGL have been in the works for years, but after the World Golf Group recently announced it hopes to launch the league in January 2022, it’s back in the headlines. “Rivaling” the PGA and European Tours, the PGL aims to host 48 of the world’s best players at 18 tournaments over eight months around the globe. The purses would be huge — $10 million per event, according to reports — with no cuts. Along with individual scoring the PGL would integrate a team format as well, ending the season with a team playoff event.
Here’s a quick look at the why, according to the WGG statement:
“If you want the world to watch, you have to showcase your best product, week-in-week-out. Golf doesn’t do that currently. … We believe we’ll succeed because the league is what fans, sponsors and broadcasters want — and the best players deserve. It will revitalise [sic] the sport for this and future generations.”
Fair enough. But now for the bigger question: How?
Recruiting “48 of the world’s best players” is a lot easier to say than it will be to do. A $10 million dollar purse per event isn’t a bad start, but then things get a little more complicated. For the PGL to become truly successful in the long term it also has to court broadcasters and major sponsors. Hard to imagine doing that with a yet-to-be filled roster of players the fans will tune in to see, and it’s hard to imagine filling that roster without broadcast and sponsorship backing. It’s the classic chicken and the egg dilemma from your intro to philosophy class.
Considering the year-round broadcasting schedules we already enjoy thanks to the PGA, LPGA, Euro, Korn Ferry and other tours, air time for an additional 18 3-day events seems scarce to begin with. And who knows how much more broadcasters would be willing to shell out for the rights of a brand new tour when the aforementioned are only growing more popular, and expensive. Sponsors may be easier to come by — may be — but that still hinges on what, or rather who, they’re sponsoring. Don’t expect much buy in if those names don’t include the actual best players in the world.
So it seems it’s all about who’s playing in the PGL, and it’s been a priority for the would-be tour to figure it out.
At the Farmers Insurance Open, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson confirmed talks have been going on for years, though both were far from offering an endorsement.
“I’m still quite a traditionalist, so to have that much of an upheaval in the game I don’t think is the right step forward,” McIlroy said during a press conference at Torrey Pines. “But I think, as I said, it might be a catalyst for some changes on this tour that can help it grow and move forward — you know, reward the top players the way they should be, I guess.”
Mickelson told reporters he doesn’t know enough about the proposed tour to comment publicly, but McIlroy also noted the PGL is “exploiting a couple holes” in top-level golf as we know it, recognizing it’s become just as much about the entertainment as it is the competition. That bodes well for the no-cut and team formats that would give fans more reason to stay tuned in, again if we’re actually the best golfers in the world.
The PGL will have no help from its predecessors in courting top players to its ranks, either, try as it might. The PGA and European Tours won’t even acknowledge its existence let alone allow their players to double dip. That leads to the question of what top-50 ranked player would want to join the un-tested PGL at the sake of losing their other tour status.
The PGA is one looking forward to its largest broadcasting windfall yet, and golf as a whole is in the midst of an upswing in popularity thanks to, you guessed it, extremely talented and young players. Credit where it’s due, they’ve done a lot to reach this point and shouldn’t feel obligated to share it with the new kid on the block. What’s more, like McIlroy said, established tours could simply implement PGL-like changes themselves, thus making a new tour totally irrelevant from the get go (I added that last part).
So what comes first, the league or the players? The WGG told everyone to mark their calendars and the countdown to 2022 is on. We’ll have to wait a see who’s first on the tee, if there even is one.