Everything you need to know about the controversial LIV Golf Series, which is backed by Saudi Arabian money and fronted by former World No.1 and Major champion Greg Norman.
What is the LIV Golf Series? Formerly known as the Super Golf League, the LIV Golf Invitational is a Saudi-backed venture consisting of eight invitational tournaments with no cuts, shotgun starts and a $255 million purse. It is being fronted by Greg Norman, the two-time Open champion and former World No.1.
Let’s delve into the detail of the new series.
What does LIV mean?
It is the Roman numeral for 54, which is the number of holes to be played in each event. It also refers to the lowest score you could shoot were you to birdie every hole on a par-72 course.
How is the LIV Golf Series funded?
The league is backed by LIV Golf Investments, whose CEO is Greg Norman. The company’s shareholder is The Public Investment Fund (PIF), a sovereign wealth fund that owns Newcastle Football Club.
Why is it so controversial?
Because of the PIF’s links to the Saudi Government, LIV Golf have faced accusations of sports washing. PIF’s chair is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi Arabia’s king. Bin Salman runs his dad’s government and has been accused of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist who was critical of the Saudi government.
Norman came in for huge criticism when he said “we’ve all made mistakes” as he rebuffed intense questions over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
Norman was then asked about 81 Saudi Arabian citizens being executed in a single day in March. “I got a lot of messages, but quite honestly I look forward, I don’t look back,” he said. “I don’t look into the politics of things. I know the mission I have as CEO of LIV Golf and that’s how we can grow the game globally. I’m not going to get into the quagmire of whatever happens in someone else’s world. I heard about it and I just kept moving on.”
“This whole thing about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi and human rights, talk about it, but also talk about the good the country is doing to change its culture. There are not many countries that can stand up and be proud of that. They can’t be proud of their past – there are a lot of countries in this world that have a cross to bear too – but they are looking after the younger generation.”
Norman had previously said “I do not answer to Saudi Arabia. I do not answer to MBS [Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman],” in an interview with Sky Sports, where he said Saudi Arabia is “changing their culture within their country.”
How is LIV Golf linked to the Asian Tour?
The series is being sanctioned by the Asian Tour, which will benefit from a $300 million cash injection – courtesy of LIV Golf – over the next 10 years.
How many players will be in the field?
The plan is to have 48 players. Those 48 players will also make up 12 teams. Each of the 12 captains will then draft a new team before every tournament. The top two scores for the first two rounds count toward the team competition with three of the four counting on the final day.
What’s the prize money in the LIV Golf Series?
Across eight events, a staggering $255m will be won. Each regular team event offers a purse of $25m – $20m will be shared between the field, with $4m for the winner of each event (more than twice the entire British Masters purse and almost double the amount a Major winner receives) and at least $120,000 going to the man who finishes last. A $5m purse will be shared between the top three ‘teams’ (think F1 Constructors’ Championship) at each event.
There’s also $50m reserved for the Team Championship, a figure that dwarfs any PGA Tour purse, with the Players Championship (the most lucrative) paying out $20m. That will be split between the 12 four-man teams, with $16m going to the winning team and at least $1m to the team that finishes last.
RELATED: Majors prize money breakdown
What is the format of the LIV Golf Series events?
This is where the Series proves even more attractive for players. Tournaments will be played across three rounds (54 holes) with no cut, meaning every player is guaranteed a big pay day ($120k for finishing last!). It’s a standard strokeplay tournament but, unlike events on the DP World and PGA Tours, each round will have a shotgun start, meaning everyone will play the course in the same conditions and at the same time – no more early or late tee times. You can see why it’s proving an attractive proposition for many players.
Where will the LIV Golf Series be played?
Across the eight events, five will be played in the United States, with one in London, one in Thailand and another in Saudi Arabia. The season-ending Team Championship will be staged at Trump National Doral Miami.
June 9-11: Centurion Golf Club – London, England
July 1-3: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club – Portland, USA
July 29-31: Trump National Golf Club Bedminster – New Jersey, USA
September 2-4: The International – Boston, USA
September 16-18: Rich Harvest Farms – Chicago, USA
October 7-9: Stonehill Golf Club – Bangkok, Thailand
October 14-16: Royal Greens Golf Club – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
October 27-30: Team Championship, Trump National Doral, Miami, USA
RELATED: Best Golf Courses in the World
So London hosts the LIV Golf Series’ first event?
Yes, Centurion Club in Hertfordshire (99th in our Top 100 England) is where it all kicks off, a week prior to the US Open. It opens with holes running between tall pines reminiscent of Woburn, then moves onto more open land that has been shaped to provide interesting terrain and holes. Less than a decade old, it boasts fine views from elevated tees and is always in super condition. Has previously hosted the European Tour’s GolfSixes events and the LET’s Aramco Team Series.
Who wants to play in it?
Would it surprise you to learn that Phil Mickelson has made a shock U-turn to join the rebels? Having not played for the best part of three months since his controversial “scary motherf*****s” comments around Saudi Arabia were revealed at the Genesis Open, Mickelson’s agent confirmed he has registered for the inaugural event.
Mickelson claimed he’d been involved in talks over the Series to gain leverage over the PGA Tour (where he’s earnt just under $100m), while Norman admitted his comments had harmed LIV Golf’s plans, damaged recruitment and forced them to delay their launch.
Lee Westwood and Richard Bland confirmed their desire to play in the Series during press conferences at the British Masters, while former World No.1 and two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer is among those keen to play. Other rumoured participants include Louis Oosthuizen, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter.
Bryson DeChambeau has long been linked with the Series, but having undergone hand surgery after the Masters the 2020 US Open winner is yet to reveal his intentions. He has registered to play in the US PGA Championship.
“We have 19 of the top 100 players committed to Centurion,” Norman told the BBC. “We have five of the top 50, a success rate that a lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to achieve.”
Will Tiger Woods play in the LIV Golf Series?
In a word, no. Tiger made his views clear ahead of the US PGA Championship, and also pulled up Phil Mickelson for his actions.
“Phil has said some things that I think a lot of us who are committed to the (PGA Tour) and committed to the legacy of the tour have pushed back against, and he’s taken some personal time, and we all understand that.
“But I think that some of his views on how the tour could be run, should be run … been a lot of disagreement there. But as we all know, as a professional, we miss him being out here. I mean, he’s a big draw for the game of golf. He’s just taking his time and we all wish him the best when he comes back.
“Obviously we’re going to have difference of opinions, how he sees the tour, and we’ll go from there.” Citing the polarizing global landscape in an era of social media that escalated Mickelson’s criticism of his home tour where he’s won 45 times – second only to Woods’ 82 among active players – Woods said, “the viewpoints that Phil has made with the tour and what the tour has meant to all of us has been polarizing as well.” “He has his opinion on where he sees the game of golf going. You know, I have my viewpoint how I see the game of golf, and I’ve supported the tour and my foundation has run events on the tour for a number of years,” Woods said.
“I just think that what Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnold (Palmer) have done in starting the (PGA Tour) and breaking away from the PGA of America and creating our tour in ’68 or ’69, somewhere in there, I just think there’s a legacy to that. I’ve been playing out here for a couple of decades, and I think there’s a legacy do it. I still think that the tour has so much to offer, so much opportunity.
“And I understand different viewpoints, but I believe in legacies. I believe in major championships. I believe in big events, comparisons to historical figures of the past. There’s plenty of money out here. The tour is growing. But it’s just like any other sport. It’s like tennis. You have to go out there and earn it. You’ve got to go out there and play for it. We have opportunity to go ahead and do it. It’s just not guaranteed up front.”
Despite long-time rival Mickelson often reaching out to Woods during his own challenging times, the 15-time Major champion said he hadn’t done the same.
“A lot of it has not to do with I think personal issues; it was our viewpoints of how the tour should be run and could be run, and what players are playing for and how we are playing for it. I have a completely different stance on, and so no, I have not (reached out to him).
“I don’t know what he’s going through. But I know the comments he made about the tour and the way that it should be run, it could be run. … I just have a very different opinion on that. And so no, I have not reached out to him.”
RELATED: Tiger’s Major wins ranked and rated
What about Rory McIlroy – will he play?
No. The four-time Major champion was quick to commit to the DP World and PGA Tours and will be playing in the Canadian Open, as will World No.1 Scottie Scheffler.
Speaking last November, McIlroy likened it to the failed European Super League in football.
“People can see it for what it is, a money grab, which is fine if what you’re playing golf for is to make as much money as possible,” the 31-year-old said. “Totally fine, then go and do that if that’s what makes you happy.
RELATED: WITB Rory McIlroy
“I’m just speaking about my own beliefs; I’m playing this game to try to cement my place in history and my legacy and to win major championships and to win the biggest tournaments in the world. I honestly don’t think there’s a better structure in place and I don’t think there will be.”
Dustin Johnson echoed McIlroy’s views. “I am grateful for the opportunity to play on the best tour in the world and for all it has provided me and my family,” the two-time Major champion said. “While there will always be areas where our Tour can improve and evolve, I am thankful for our leadership and the many sponsors who make the PGA Tour golf’s premier tour.”
The majority of the world’s top and young players have ruled themselves out of the Series, with Justin Thomas telling rebels to “just go”.
“You know, it’s like, look, if you want to go, go,” Thomas said at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
“I mean there’s been plenty of guys that have been advocates of it and have just talked it up all the time and they have been guys behind the scenes that are saying, I’m going, I’m doing this.’ And like my whole thing is, like just go then.
“… Everybody’s entitled to do what they want, you know what I mean? Like if I wanted to go play that tour I could go play that tour. But I’m loyal to the PGA Tour.”
Is the LIV Golf Series a one-off?
No. Greg Norman revealed in mid-May that he had secured an extra $2bn (£1.6bn) of funding from Saudi Arabia to build the breakaway series into a full super league.
“We’ve just got approval to launch our schedule into 2023, ’24 and ’25. We’ve got $2bn to back that up so we have additional funds in place.
“And just because we are talking about ’23, ’24 and ’25, we’re looking way beyond that too. We are looking at decades.”
Hasn’t Greg Norman tried to create a breakaway golf tour before?
Yes, he sure has. Back in the mid-1990s Norman, then World No.1, wanted to create a breakaway golf league for him and the world’s other top players because he didn’t believe they were getting a fair cut of the PGA Tour’s money.
He believed that the superstars should be paid more than lesser-known names, even if they finished in the same position in a tournament, because it was the top players who were bringing the attention to the events.
He proposed that those big-name players compete in more exclusive, small-field events around the world that would pay huge appearance fees, but it never really made it off the ground due to the PGA Tour’s minimum 15 appearances rule.
Could it be that it still irks him, all those years later? With a reported net worth of more than $400m, it feels unlikely, but, as this whole situation has shown, some people can never have enough money.
Is Jack Nicklaus involved in the LIV Golf Series?
No, but Nicklaus says they wanted him to be. The 18-time Major champion and 73-time PGA Tour winner claims to have turned down repeated advances and a huge sum of money to take on the role being carried out by Greg Norman. Seemingly the Aussie was not the first choice.
“I was offered something in excess of $100m by the Saudis, to do the job probably similar to the one Greg is doing,” Nicklaus told the Fire Pit Collective.
“I turned it down. Once verbally, once in writing. I said, ‘Guys, I have to stay with the PGA Tour. I helped start the PGA Tour.'”
The 82-year-old, who has designed golf courses across the globe, including in Saudi Arabia, also had some words of wisdom for Phil Mickelson.
“My advice to Phil would be to be patient,” Nicklaus said. “The world is a very forgiving place.
“But he’s the one – he has to decide where he wants to play and what he wants to do.”
How can I watch the LIV Golf Series?
The LIV Golf Series doesn’t have an official broadcasting partner yet, and the opening event looks set to be streamed on YouTube, with Norman claiming they have “a lot of linear and OTT people wanting to come in with us”. The Australian says the Series is currently under NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) with nine of them.
If you want to watch it live at Centurion then tickets start from £69.22 per day and £52 for students. That’s pretty pricey for a Series that has continually claimed its main aim is to “grow the game”, but cheaper than the original price of £80, which was rapidly reduced after negative feedback. “Ticket people make those decisions,” Norman told BBC Sport’s Iain Carter.
Kids go free with paying adults and there will be a host of live entertainment and golf experiences in the large spectator village, along with street food. The players will be transported to their starting tees in London black cabs.
For context, a ticket to a tournament day at this year’s 150th Open at St Andrews is £95, while tickets for the British Masters started from as little as £40.
The LIV Golf Series’ shotgun start also means less opportunity to see as much golf with the entire field on the course at the same time and finished within around five hours.
How do the DP World Tour and PGA Tour feel about the LIV Golf Series?
Behind the scenes they will be concerned by the threat, but they are standing firm, with both Tours denying release requests from players who wanted to play at Centurion.
In an email sent to players in February, CEO Keith Pelley urged them to consider how the Saudi-backed venture could “significantly hurt” the Tour, especially as several of the LIV Golf events clash with “heritage events” on the DP World calendar, including the Irish, Spanish and Italian Opens.
“Conflicting events, regardless of how attractive they might appear to you personally, potentially compromise our efforts in these areas and could significantly hurt your Tour in both the short and long term,” Pelley wrote.
“Please, therefore, continue to bear this bigger picture in mind, particularly considering some of these conflicting events in 2022 are scheduled directly opposite some of our most prestigious ‘heritage events’, including the Horizon Irish Open, the DS Automobiles Italian Open and the Acciona Open de España – three national Opens which combined have more than 300 years of history.”
RELATED: DP World Tour’s 2022 schedule
While the first event is in London, the second is in Portland and PGA Tour by-laws preclude members from competing on a rival tour in the United States. It has said any members who play in the LIV Golf Series will face severe consequences. Disciplinary action muted includes short-term and lifetime bans, bans from the Majors and players not being allowed to represent their country or continent at team events such as the Ryder Cup.
A memo sent to its members, said: “We have notified those who have applied that their request has been declined in accordance with the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations.
“As such, Tour members are not authorized to participate in the Saudi Golf League’s London event under our Regulations.
“As a membership organization, we believe this decision is in the best interest of the Tour and its players.”
Norman described the move as “anti-golf” and said several top players have told him they will play without a release.
“Sadly, the PGA Tour seems intent on denying professional golfers their right to play golf, unless it’s exclusively in a PGA Tour tournament,” said Norman.
“This is particularly disappointing in light of the Tour’s non-profit status, where its mission is purportedly ‘to promote the common interests of professional tournament golfers.’
“Instead, the Tour is intent on perpetuating its illegal monopoly of what should be a free and open market.
“The Tour’s action is anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive. But no matter what obstacles the PGA Tour puts in our way, we will not be stopped. We will continue to give players options that promote the great game of golf globally.”
But how can the Tours convince their stars to stay away from the LIV Golf Series longer-term?
Aside from the threat of disciplinary action, they can do it by throwing money at them. It sounds simplistic, but money talks and the PGA Tour has a lot of it after signing a new media rights deal, believed to be valued at $7 billion, at the beginning of 2020. Prize money has already increased by 17 percent to $427 million for this season – and commissioner Jay Monahan is promising even bigger incentives for its members to ward off the threat of the Saudi seduction and its endless supply of ‘sportswashing’ money.
By 2025, the Players Championship will total $25 million. There’s even talk of a new international series – which could begin as early as next year – with the promise of big bonuses and guaranteed money for the world’s best players.
For now, every member is being offered a $50,000 ‘sweetener’ just for making 15 starts or more in a season. Then there’s a $20 million bonus pool for the top 10 at the end of the regular PGA Tour season – and that’s before you dive into the financials of the FedEx Cup Play Offs where this year’s winner will walk away with $18 million. If you win the Player Impact Program as well, you can add another $10 million just for being popular.
Now you can see why Rory McIlroy was so bullish in claiming that “anyone who plays well over the next few years is going to get seriously rich”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Jerram is the Digital Editor of todaysgolfer.co.uk
He has been a journalist for more than 20 years, starting his career with Johnston Press where he covered local and regional news and sport in a variety of editorial roles across ten years.
Rob joined Bauer Media in 2010 and worked as the Senior Production Editor of Today’s Golfer and Golf World magazines for ten years before moving into the Digital Editor’s role in July 2020.
He has been playing golf for almost three decades and has been a member at Greetham Valley in Rutland for eight years, playing off a 12 handicap.