News & Opinion

Greg Norman likes chances of world golf tour

The architect of a failed rival to the PGA Tour in 1994 says the time is right for the Premier Golf League concept to succeed

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – In 1994, Greg Norman tried to start a world tour, but the venture went nowhere.

Was it a concept that was just ahead of its time?

Greg.Norman.2020.Saudi.jpg
Greg Norman, whose concept of a worldwide rival to the PGA Tour failed, says the proposed Premier Golf League can succeed.

Twenty-six years later, the professional-golf landscape has changed dramatically, and the concept of a world tour in Norman’s eyes seems to have merit (“World Tour will go nowhere without Tiger Woods,” Jan. 27). Norman said that now is the time.

“With my original concept, some players loved it and others didn’t like it,” Norman, 64, a 20-time winner on the PGA Tour, said here last week during the European Tour’s Saudi International. “I had corporate; I had television. But you need 100 percent of the pie to be together before we can bake it. From what I’m seeing here, this one has every chance of getting off the ground.”

Norman’s idea consisted of a 10-event world tour that would have visited the far-flung parts of the globe. The proposed Premier Golf League also intends to play worldwide, with 18 events and mandatory participation for its 48 players.

One key reason for the PGL’s potential success, left unsaid by Norman, is the financing behind the proposed tour. The money would come from Saudi Arabia and SoftBank Investment Advisers, a Tokyo-based venture-capital and private-equity firm that sponsored the Saudi International, which Graeme McDowell won here Sunday.

Norman also mentioned that other professional sports, such as Formula One racing, tennis, soccer and cricket, have done something similar to what the Premier Golf League is designed to do: interrupt the status quo. Yet, many of the obstacles are immense and similar to what he encountered when he tried to create a new tour nearly three decades ago.

“It was pretty much the PGA Tour that stopped it,” Norman said. “You’ve got to remember back in my day the players were looked on a little bit different. Seve [Ballesteros], Jose [Maria Olazabal] and I were trying to tell everybody we were independent contractors who could go and play anywhere in the world we want. Today is that way, for sure now. Restraint of trade is not as prevalent – you can’t do it, basically, in this day and age – so that’s why this one probably has a little more leg.”

Norman also had issues with the players’ managers in the mid-1990s. In some cases, managers owned pieces of the individual golf tournaments, which meant that the new tour would be taking money out of their mouths.

According to Norman, the PGL is addressing some of those issues and negotiating with managers to get them onboard early in the process.

“The players all have a manager, so there are a lot of different conversations happening behind the scenes for everybody to feel comfortable for signing up,” Norman said.

Any new tour seemingly would need to attract the world’s top golfers. Or would it?

“Not necessarily,” Norman said. “Tiger [Woods] and Rory [McIlroy] are not going to be around forever. The concept has to have longevity that will stand the test of time.”

While Norman also had the Fox network behind his venture as a TV partner, he doesn’t think that it would be necessary to have a network contract. The live-streaming capabilities of providers such as Amazon or Apple could propel a new league.

“Everybody is out for this real-time 5G, 6G, instantaneous coverage,” Norman said. “Boom, here it is, no matter where we are in the world. Get out of the box. There are opportunities out there that are far greater than even I could have contemplated back in my day.”

To receive Morning Read’s newsletters, subscribe for free here.