Greg Norman’s LIV Golf plans boosted by extra $ 2bn of Saudi money

Greg Norman
Greg Norman won two Open Championships and spent more than 300 weeks as world number one during the 1980s and 90s

Greg Norman has revealed he has secured $ 2bn (£ 1.6bn) of extra funding from Saudi Arabia to build his breakaway invitational golf series into a full super league by 2024.

In his first interview since securing the deal, Norman told BBC Sport that his plans stretch “decades” into the future and that within two years a 14-tournament global series will be underway.

The 67-year-old Australian is the chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, which will stage an inaugural invitational tournament worth a record $ 25m, between 9-11 June at the Centurion Club near St Albans.

Norman defended the source of his financial backing which comes from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and says that five of the world’s top 50 golfers have already committed to the Centurion tournament.

“The whole notion is to change the look and the whole presentation of the way the game has been played over the last 53 years,” the two-time Open champion said. His tournament will be played over 54 rather than 72 holes and will include a team element with players teeing off simultaneously around the course in a “shotgun start”.

“We’ve just got approval to launch our schedule into 2023, 24 and 25. We’ve got $ 2bn to back that up so we have additional funds in place.

“And just because we’re talking about 23, 24 and 25, we’re looking way beyond that too. We’re looking at decades.”

Several players from the PGA Tour and European-based DP World Tour have been seeking waivers from those organizations to allow them to play the opening event in England.

The second tournament is due to be played in Portland, Oregon in July. PGA Tour by-laws preclude members from competing on a rival tour in the United States. It means they face possible bans if they sign up for Norman’s first American event.

“We have 19 of the top 100 players committed to Centurion,” Norman said. “We have five of the top 50, a success rate that a lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to achieve.”

The LIV Golf Investments plan to reveal the names of who will be competing next week, when golfing attention will center around the next men’s major, the US PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

English stars Lee Westwood and Richard Bland have already revealed they have sought permission to play the Centurion event. Others thought to be involved include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer.

Norman defended the prospect of already wealthy golfers playing for vast sums at a time of increasing economic hardship. “I can’t talk about that side of politics,” he said.

“Over 40 years of being involved in professional golf, I’ve played through a lot of recessions and a lot of inflationary times. The sport has always looked like being an outlet to some degree.

“Golf, quite honestly, the players are the lowest paid on the totem pole compared to soccer and some sports in the US, one of the lowest paid.

“From my perspective these players deserve this opportunity to go and play for this because they haven’t been able to play for this in the past, when they should have been.”

Norman explained that his initial Invitational Series is just a beginning. “Twenty-two and 23 are our baiter years. We are a start up, basically,” he said.

“Of course we have had to pivot because there have been some obstacles thrown in our way with a couple of institutions – the PGA Tour and DP World Tour – but we have pivoted brilliantly.

“We have pivoted to the fact that we’ve done invitationals and these will be our start ups. We will start with eight this year and then we’ll by 10 next year and 2024 and 25 and beyond it’s the full league, 14 events off and running. “

Norman claims he had contact from several leading golfers immediately before flying to London on Monday. “I spoke to numerous players and quite a few of them said they’ll play without a release,” he said.

“So the players are starting to see the value of what LIV Golf is going to present to them.

“We’re not looking for a legal fight. It’s how you interpret those rules, those by-laws.

“The PGA Tour interprets it one way, we interpret it another way. That’s when lawyers get involved.

“Remember, no tour in this world owns golf. There’s been a monopoly in place for 53 years.

“Players have to go play the PGA Tour, that’s it, plain and simple. All we are trying to do is give the players another opportunity to go and play.

“Obviously they [the PGA Tour] are partnering up with the European Tour and that sends a signal that they are trying to tighten up their monopoly situation.

“The players are starting to understand some of the by-laws might be a little bit less stringent or less penal than what the tour are saying. You’ll be banned for life? You can’t ban players for life, they are independent contractors. “

Nevertheless there is the prospect of legal wrangling overshadowing the coming weeks and months when men’s golf stages its remaining majors, the PGA, US Open and the 150th Open Championship.

“We didn’t create the unedifying mess,” Norman insisted. “We’re coming in to help and support with another platform. There’s nothing wrong with that.

“We’re not coming in to disrupt it all.”

But, I put it to him, that this is exactly what his organization is doing. “Depends how you look at it, right?” he countered.

“Disruption? Or being a true honest competitor that gives the players, the independent contractors the right to be able to make a choice.

“We’ve tried many, many times to reach out to the PGA Tour, to sit down and talk to them about this and we’ve always tried to work side by side with them. But they are the ones who refuse to return my calls.

“Why? What are they scared of?”

Norman admits that comments by Phil Mickelson branding Saudi Arabia as “scary” provided a major obstacle to his plans but reiterated that the 51-year-old reigning US PGA Champion will be welcome at his events.

Mickelson has revealed he has sought a waiver to play. “Phil is still there,” Norman said. “We are in discussions with Phil, there’s no question about it.”

Norman insists Saudi Arabia, who have been accused of ‘sports washing’ their heavily criticized human rights record with this project, among many others, are in it to ultimately make a financial return.

“They’re investing in and they want to get their money out,” he said. “Golf is one of those few opportunities to exist in the world of sport that had virgin space sitting there untapped.”

And the former world number one has no qualms about putting his reputation on the line by working with the Saudis.

“I’m very, very proud of the fact that when I go to Saudi Arabia I see these kids and these girls playing the game of golf,” he said. “And the way the game is growing in that country is phenomenal. To me that’s what it’s all about.”

So how many golfers are there in Saudi Arabia? “I don’t know, I can find that number but it keeps growing every year,” Norman said.

And he says his moves will shift the golfing landscape. “I think it’s going to be pleasantly different,” he said.

“I think people will realize the platform we have out there, the ability of the fans to get a better experience for the players, the stakeholders. Our production budget is mind-blowingly impressive.”

He then revealed the opening event in Hertfordshire will be shown on YouTube. “Centurion will be streamed live,” he said. “We have a lot of linear and OTT [over the top] people wanting to come in with us. We are under NDAs with nine of them. “

Throughout the interview he insisted the primary objective is to “grow the game” and deferred to ticketing agencies for ground pass prices that start at £ 69.22 per day and £ 52 for students. By way of comparison, ticket prices for last week’s British Masters at The Belfry started at £ 40.

“Ticket people make those decisions,” he said.

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