What it lacks in golf courses – it has only one – Malta is rapidly making up for in notoriety.
The archipelago in the central Mediterranean was the setting for a high-level summit last July between representatives of the DP World Tour – which, at the time, was the European Tour – and LIV Golf, which, at the time, was Super League Golf (SLG).
Amongst those in attendance at the Hotel Corinthia were DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and his deputy Guy Kinnings; representatives from LIV; and key personnel from DP World.
But why did the meeting take place? Who brokered it? What was discussed? And how have we gone from there to the DP World Tour choosing to resist the advances of LIV and, instead, strengthen its ‘Strategic Alliance’ with the PGA Tour?
We’ve spoken to key figures on both sides – and, for the first time, exclusively, DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley – in an attempt to get the full lowdown on the biggest shake-up in the history of golf...
So, there was a meeting in Malta last July. That much everybody appears to agree on.
According to DP World Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, it took the form of an “unsolicited presentation” from Golf Saudi representatives.
The ‘other side’ disputes that.
“The meeting was facilitated by DP World officials,” revealed our source. “In May of 2021, they got wind of plans by Golf Saudi and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) to create a new global tour and, concerned that this might have an impact upon their soon-to-be-announced investment into the-then European Tour, they asked that SLG meet with the European Tour.”
By then, SLG was in advanced discussions with the Asian Tour about a partnership but, due to the replicable nature of its proposal, it agreed to the meeting.
Due to ongoing COVID restrictions, the meeting had to be staged in Malta.
Diaries were cleared for July 5-6 – the week of the Scottish Open – and arrangements made.
bunkered.co.uk has seen the slides from a presentation made by SLG representatives to the DP World Tour, which, amongst other things, outlined the benefits the tour could expect to look forward to from a partnership.
They included the creation of an International Series of tournaments – much like the one that has since launched on the Asian Tour – which it was claimed would create a $42.5million prize fund contribution over five years from SLG, as well as a $10million partnership investment, also over five years. Consider this ‘Part 1’.
‘Part 2’ hinged on SLG fully launching (which it has since done under the 'LIV Golf Invitational Series' banner).
In that event, it was put to the European Tour that they would receive a 2.5% equity stake; a 5% equity stake in a team franchise; $35-40million for five years as a ‘League Production Partner’; $1.2million as a sanctioning partner for five years, based on a minimum of six sanctioned events per season; and other benefits, including a seat on the SLG board.
All told, SLG valued ‘Part 2’ at $250million plus equity value that was "conservatively estimated" at between $400-500million.
“What was presented was a deal worth between $700-800million,” added our source. “And that was the worst-case scenario.”
bunkered.co.uk has seen a copy of what purports to be minutes from this meeting.
These acknowledge that the “spirit [of SLG] is not to take anything from anyone” but instead “ensure that golf’s eco-system benefits as a whole”.
If they ever did see it this way, Pelley and the DP World Tour clearly don't anymore.
Announcing an expansion of its partnership with the PGA Tour earlier this week (more of which shortly), Pelley said: “Unfortunately, Golf Saudi has elected to play outside the ecosystem. They play inside the ecosystem in Formula 1, they play inside the ecosystem in Premier League Football and as they do in women's golf. And I'm a board member of the LET.
“I've been consistent that if, in fact, they are interested to play inside the ecosystem and not launch a rival tour that I think is detrimental to the game at large, then I personally, from DP World's perspective, would be open to having a conversation.”
The minutes also noted that “over ten years, the overall financial injection into the European Tour could reach $1bn.”
bunkered.co.uk put that figure to Pelley during a joint press conference between he and Jay Monahan launching the new partnership.
“We never received a formal written offer,” he said. “We received the presentation that was given to us in Malta - and if you have seen the presentation, you will know that the numbers there are erroneous.”
The minutes – reportedly written up by one of the representatives attending on behalf of DP World – also show that European Tour requested a break following the presentation and returned after 45 minutes with some concerns.
Those included the “mighty power” of the PGA Tour – with whom the European Tour was already six months into the original ‘Strategic Alliance’ - and “the need to avoid a collision course between the European Tour and the PGA Tour.”
It is understood that Pelley proposed SLG make something of a soft launch during the off-season and outside the United States in order to mitigate any risk to the PGA Tour. This suggestion was, however, rejected by a senior SLG official.
That was day one.
Day two, July 6, saw all parties reconvene for more talks. They appear to have gone well. Minutes from the meeting note that a collaboration between the SLG, European Tour and DP World constituted a “solid opportunity to further expand and optimise” the soon-to-be DP World Tour and at the same time “modernise and enhance the golf ecosystem”.
The meeting concluded with a list of actions. Again, according to the minutes, those included Pelley presenting proposals from SLG back to the European Tour board and members, and brokering a meeting between Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Public Investment Fund, and PGA commissioner Jay Monahan with a view to “enabling an integration pathway”.
The meeting concluded and everybody went their separate ways
On July 9, the minutes from the summit were shared with the meeting attendees.
And that was that.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
For the most part, those are questions for Keith Pelley.
Earlier today, bunkered.co.uk spoke exclusively with the DP World Tour chief executive to press him on some of the finer points of the information we have been shown.
To his credit, Pelley was happy to take the call and spoke freely for 15 minutes. Whilst clearly frustrated that information from the meeting had been leaked to us – "I think that’s pretty unprofessional" – he insisted he had nothing to hide and was happy to answer our questions.
We asked him which parts of the presentation were, as he put it in his answer during Tuesday’s press conference, ‘erroneous’.
He replied: “I don’t think it would be professional in any way to discuss details that were deemed to be confidential at that particular time. What I will say is that, out of responsibility, I presented what we had been shown back to our board in September of ’21 and we concluded that this was not something we were interested in.”
We asked if reports that he had proposed a soft-launch for SLG outside the US were accurate.
He replied: “Yes, we suggested four events – two in Europe, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Dubai – post FedEx Cup. We believed that would be a better course of action but only so long as this new venture would be additive, not competitive. We brought Golf Saudi into the game in 2019 and we built a good relationship with them. I’ve been consistent in saying that we would be more than happy to have a conversation if they would forego operating outside of the existing eco-system but this suggestion was rejected.”
We asked if it was accurate that he had been tasked with brokering a meeting between Al-Rumayyan and Monahan.
He replied: “I think there have been a number of different versions of those minutes so I wouldn’t say it was as emphatic as that. There was a suggestion by DP World for all parties to meet but the caveat I put on it was that it would be positive if there was a willingness not to push a new league. I didn’t think that would be productive. Again, I wanted them to play inside the ecosystem.”
We asked if the proposal from the Malta meeting had been shared with the membership. There have been reports of players on the DP World Tour being unhappy at the opportunity to work with SLG/LIV being dismissed without their knowledge.
He replied: “I’m not sure if I would even call it a proposal. It was a presentation. The way our governance works, that’s not something we would take to the members. The remit of our board is to analyse all aspects of the business and make decisions that are in the overall interests of the membership, which is what we did in this case.”
He said during the joint press conference with the PGA Tour that “the numbers were less compelling than Raine Capital and the PGL [Premier Golf League] proposal we turned down nine months earlier.”
He added: “Bottom line, whatever was presented to those of us in Malta was presented back to the board.”
Again, during the aforementioned press conference with the PGA Tour, Pelley stated that he was not at Centurion for the inaugural LIV event, as had been reported, but was, in fact, in Sweden attending the Scandinavian Mixed tournament.
In that presser, he stated: “The complexity of two members' organisations coming together has required a tremendous amount of resolve, unwavering commitment and work with our respective teams. That has been our primary and our only focus and I'm proud of where we've gotten to today.”
He further acknowledged that the “existential threat” posed by SLG – now LIV Golf – had “escalated” the road map the tour had been following.
On the strengthening of relations with the PGA Tour, he added: “It's a wonderful opportunity for our players. I just had a player that had just lost his PGA Tour card come and say to me, 'This is the greatest thing ever.' I think us working together makes us all better.”
Since departing Malta, the various attendees have gone in different directions.
On August 3, 2021, the European Tour and PGA expanded on their strategic alliance by making three tournaments - the Scottish Open and the Barbasol and Barracuda Championships - co-sanctioned events. For what it's worth, bunkered.co.uk understands that representatives from SLG reached out to the PGA Tour in April 2021 but has never received a reply.
On November 9, it was announced that the European Tour had entered into a multi-year partnership with DP World to become the DP World Tour.
SLG subsequently became LIV Golf, which, on February 1 this year, announced details of its Asian Tour International Series. On May 10, it unveiled its ten-event Invitational Series. It intends to expand this to 14 events from next year. Charl Schwartzel won the inaugural event at the Centurion Club earlier this month.
The second LIV event, and the first in the United States, takes place at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon this week.