Asian Tour awaits any fallout from the golf war truce
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Two years before the US PGA Tour succumbed to Saudi Arabia’s financial might, a far smaller golf circuit took the cash — minus player exodus, legal battles and public outcry.
For Asian Tour commissioner Cho Minn Thant, the $200mn commitment from Saudi-backed LIV Golf back in October 2021 was meant to transform the circuit’s standing on the global stage and allow it to break free from the dominance of the PGA Tour and its European counterpart.
LIV Golf was establishing a team-based format and luring top golfers from the US and European Tours — upending the balance of power in the sport and creating a divide that threatened to tear the sport apart.
So, when the PGA Tour recently decided it could no longer afford the costly power battle — and Saudi-backed LIV realised the ferocity of the dispute was limiting its ability to win over broadcasters and sponsors — they worked out a truce.
The two sides are now fleshing out a formal agreement that is structured as a merger of their commercial interests.
Thant was preparing for a board meeting in Singapore when he first heard about the shock partnership between his biggest financial backer and what was meant to be the competition. “The first question that our board members had was, ‘Hey, are they suddenly going to forget about the Asian Tour? Where do we stand?’”
Although the commissioner was aware that LIV wanted to put an end to the war, he was caught off guard by the announcement.
“That was probably the most surprising thing, how they kept it under wraps,” Thant says. “Usually, in the golf industry, there are no secrets.”
He has not yet been part of the merger discussions between the PGA Tour and the Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), but hopes to be in future — although he also warns “there’s still a “chance” a deal “won’t go through” if the two sides can’t formalise an agreement.
Still, Thant sees big opportunities for the PGA Tour from a constructive relationship with the Saudis.
“I think there’s a genuine want from the PIF and Saudi in general to sponsor the PGA Tour,” he says. “And if you read between the lines when it mentions a marquee event, I think one of the objectives is to create possibly a fifth major.”
The four majors are run separately from the golf Tours. He credits Saudi investment with turning his own tour around, giving him the funding to host its international series and to hold its flagship $5mn event near Jeddah. It has opened up new markets, too, including Oman, Qatar, Morocco and Egypt. The Asian Tour is also talking to courses in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Thant says that LIV has assured him that the funding for his tour’s International Series remains intact and that Asia is very much part of the business model going forward. However, he is awaiting details on exactly “how and when” the Asian Tour will be involved in the new venture.
Ultimately, he hopes, the truce between the Saudis and the PGA Tour could benefit the Asian Tour’s commercial prospects. High on the agenda is a broadcast deal in the UK — “that would help us a lot”.
“Now, it looks like the market is a lot more open, in that we’ve been approached by broadcasters and sponsors who couldn’t work with us in the last 18 months who want to work with us going forward,” Thant points out. “That was right away.”
“We all realise that the PGA Tour and LIV are still going to be the pinnacle of the golf pyramid, that the Asian Tour and the DP World Tour fit underneath that,” he says, “but we’d still like to see some of the top players come out to Asia and play in our markets, as well.”