What is driving the Super Golf League?

Dustin Johnson wedge play

The concept of a rival circuit to the game’s established tours has been around for more than 20 years, with former world number one Greg Norman unveiling his plans in 1994 but failing to gain any traction.

However, Norman is back again as the figurehead of a Saudi-backed 300 million US dollar investment into the Asian Tour he describes as ” only the beginning”, with the Australian also expected to become the commissioner of a new breakaway golf league.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the developments so far and what could happen next.

How did the possibility of a breakaway league resurface?

The Premier Golf League (PGL) was the first to outline proposals, in January 2020, for 48 players to compete in 54-hole tournaments with no cut and an individual and team league format, with the weekly individual winner
claiming GBP 2.8million and last place picking up GBP 106,000. The eight-month season would begin in January, with 12 of the 18 tournaments played in the United States and featuring a shotgun start to fit in a five-hour broadcast window.

Is that the same as the Saudi-backed Super Golf League?

No. PGL chief executive Andy Gardiner told the PA news agency that talks had taken place with Saudi investors – among others – but that “it didn’t come to pass and we went our separate ways.” The PGL did come close to a deal with the European Tour before the latter signed a strategic alliance with the PGA Tour in November 2020. The PGA Tour did not respond to Gardiner’s request for talks over possible collaboration.

What is the SGL offering?

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson is among the players to receive an offer to join the Super Golf League (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Details of tournaments and formats have not been made public, but it would be no surprise to see elements of the PGL proposals included. What is clear is the amount of money available to tempt players to sign up, with Bryson DeChambeau reportedly offered an eye-watering GBP 100million. Asked if he had received a similar offer to the GBP 22million supposedly dangled in front of Ian Poulter, Dustin Johnson’s smile as he responded “not similar” suggested the former world number one’s incentive is far higher.

Will the players take the money?

Lee Westwood, 48, admitted last year it would be a “no-brainer” to sign a multi-million-pound contract at this stage of his career and it would be understandable if players of a similar age were equally tempted by a massive payday. Phil Mickelson also conceded that the threat of the SGL has given players “leverage” to squeeze more money out of the PGA Tour.

What might stop them?

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy has described proposals for a Super Golf League as a “money grab” (David Davies/PA)

Rory McIlroy has already stated his opposition and labelled the proposals a
“money grab” similar to football’s European Super League, while Jon Rahm, Tiger Woods, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth have either said or implied they are not interested. Players have also been warned they face bans from established tours and potentially the Ryder Cup if they were to defect.

What about ethical concerns?

“One hundred per cent, there’s a morality to it as well,” McIlroy said when confirming he would not play in the second edition of the Saudi International in 2020, but he appears to be in the minority. Despite Amnesty International describing the tournament as “yet another big-money sportswashing operation” designed to distract from the country’s “appalling human rights record”, most players hide behind claims of “growing the game” and proclaiming “I’m not a politician”.

What happens next?

It remains to be seen if enough players sign up to make the SGL viable and whether the tours will follow through with their threat of bans, which may or may not be legally enforceable. The safest bet would seem to be that lawyers as well as players could enjoy a financial windfall.