Undoubtedly, for many of us who have had the opportunity to be professionally involved in golf tournaments, this past week aroused a lot of curiosity. It was a sight to behold! LIV Golf arrived for the first time in Spain, and at the Real Club Valderrama, no less. It was a sight to behold!
For those unfamiliar with the event, LIV Golf emerged just a year ago amid significant controversy. It “signed on” major names from “traditional” golf circuits, such as the PGA Tour and the European Tour (now DP World Tour). These two prominent institutions/companies confronted the players who joined LIV Golf, prohibiting them from participating in their tournaments and thus being unable to earn points for the world rankings or to access events including the Ryder Cup. The battle lines were drawn.
The concept of LIV Golf represents a new style of tournament, much more “Americanised”, akin to Formula 1 or MotoGP. “Golf but louder” is their slogan, and it certainly lives up to it. Here, the spectacle takes priority over many traditional aspects of golf, and it operates independently of the sport’s official institutions and federations. From the outset, LIV Golf entered the market to challenge the global golf “establishment”, backed by an enormous budget for operations and prizemoney, and signing players in a manner reminiscent of football. Greg Norman, known as “The Shark” (both on and off the course), has spearheaded the project so far, supported by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, with an estimated capital of €650 billion. The LIV Golf Andalucía tournament last week offered a prize purse of $24 million ($20 million for individual players and $4 million for the winning team). In the previous DP World Tour event held at the same club last October, a total of €3 million in prize-money was distributed among players. Needless to say, there is little more to add regarding the obvious financial allure for players.
However, rather than simply emulating the existing model, LIV Golf has taken a risky approach by breaking away from certain traditional concepts. They reduced the conventional four-day tournament to three days. Sequential tee times were discarded in favour of having all players on the course simultaneously, with a dramatic display of vehicles that enhances the spectacle and significantly shortens the duration of each day’s play. They introduced an additional layer of team competition to complement individual results and create a sense of club-like membership. They shattered the sacred silence of a golf course, replacing it with an impressive array of loudspeakers and background music (Ibiza style) throughout the venue. Before the competition begins, AC/DC blares at high volume, following a countdown reminiscent of American customs. They also dispensed with the strict dress code, allowing players to wear shorts, and filled the tournament days with numerous activities and organised concerts in the evenings. They have further innovated by challenging the customary television contracts, although this remains their main hurdle due to limited viewership – they produce and broadcast through their web platform and application.
So what is the result? Opinions vary greatly. From a legion of scandalised individuals to those who have enjoyed this tournament much more than others. All changes and evolutions require a disruptive element, and this event has certainly brought many disruptions. Personally, not all of them are to my liking, but it is undeniable that they have made a bold move to break with the established norms.
Frankly, until a few days ago, I hadn’t taken a particular interest in LIV Golf, and my opinion leaned towards a solid rejection of the idea that a company, simply due to its vast wealth, could disrupt concepts and institutions that until recently seemed untouchable, with the potential risks this could entail in the long run. However, whether we like it or not, just a few weeks ago, both major golf circuits seemed to have yielded (which was expected for the DP World Tour but less so for the PGA Tour) by announcing a possible global merger between LIV Golf, the PGA and the DP World Tour. This will revolutionise formats, tournaments and events worldwide.
Unquestionably, the line-up of players in Spain was the strongest we’ve had in years, possibly since the 2000 American Express World Golf Championships. On the other hand, I have always advocated for adding a bit of “spice” (or reggaeton in this case) to golf to attract new generations and modernise a sport that still maintains an essentially distorted and unpopular image in countries like ours. The format of LIV Golf may make a positive contribution in that regard, but only time will tell.
It is also true that professional golf circuits have been big businesses for a long time, for players and sponsors, advertising contracts and television coverage, even as they rely on tradition and sporting purity.
As for us, as a golf destination, this can only be positive, at least as long as we are part of the international golfing scene. This year, we will host four high-level tournaments, including the Solheim Cup, and it is essential for us to position ourselves beyond Europe to grow and attract different segments of the golf industry, transforming ourselves into a global golf destination rather than just a European one. We need to be daring and compete with top-end destinations such as Scotland and Ireland.
Therefore, as professionals involved in promoting Spanish golf worldwide, we can only once again express our gratitude to the members of Real Club Valderrama for their courage in embracing this format. When they made the decision, the future of the event seemed much more uncertain than it does now, and there were certain long-term risks that perhaps were not as apparent at that time. Special congratulations to the CEO, Javier Reviriego, for his management in the lead-up and during the event, which undoubtedly had many complexities. And, why not, let’s also congratulate Andalucian Tourism for having the foresight to “jump on board” at the last moment and ensure that Andalucía has its own name and coverage closely associated with the event. It would be great to complement this initiative with even more promotion of the Spanish brand, because the further we aim to reach the more important it is to work together on promotional campaigns and marketing.
If you want to express your opinion on the matter, you can do so in the version reproduced on LinkedIn.