Pelley: “The growth of the game needs to be global”

Mark McGowan
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CEO of the DP World Tour Keith Pelley (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Soon to be ex-DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley feels that unity in men’s professional golf is the way forward and hopes that will be the end result of the ongoing negotiations between the PGA Tour, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the Strategic Sports Group, and his own organisation, for the present at least, the DP World Tour.

Speaking to Golf Digest’s John Huggan ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic, the first Rolex Series Event of the 2024 DP World Tour campaign, Pelley, who is set to take up the leading role with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. suggests a worldwide approach to take the game to the next level.

“The growth of the game needs to be global,” said Pelley. “That’s where the focus needs to be. Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool (soccer club) and is part of SSG, understands the importance of global. PIF certainly understands the importance of being global. This is a global game. Every business now that is growing wants to be global. So what I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy.”

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As head of the DP World Tour, Pelley has long recognised the significance of markets other than Europe, the traditional heartland of what was once called the European Tour, and feels that the PGA Tour is starting to come to terms with the idea as well.

“The PGA Tour is coming to the realization that ‘globality’ is the key for growth,” Pelley said. “They have heard me say it once or twice. We’ve talked about a lot of different scenarios and different concepts. At the end of the day, the consumer, the partners, everybody wants a global approach. How we execute that is to be determined. Every possibility is on the table.”

Despite professional golfers typically being able to pick and choose their events at present, the long term viability of that model is under threat and Pelley is aware of the value in having the best players competing against each other more often and at a higher rate of guarantee, though doesn’t believe that the ‘independent contractor’ model will disappear in the short term.

“That’s the aspirational goal down the road,” Pelley said. “That’s what the game is moving towards. Look at last week. The Dubai Invitational was a success because Rory [McIlroy] and Tommy [Fleetwood] produced a magical performance on Sunday. Tournaments are different when Rory plays. Tournaments are different when Tommy and Tyrrell [Hatton] are here and all the top players play. That concept of having all the top players play, and knowing when they play, is a great model for success.”

Pelley’s tenure at the helm of the DP World Tour saw the introduction of the Rolex Series as the then European Tour sought to compete on financial terms with the PGA Tour, but, amongst other things, the COVID-19 pandemic was detrimental as logistics and finances proved considerably more challenging to the globe-trotting Tour, forcing them into a ‘Strategic Alliance’ with the PGA Tour as LIV arose and brought fresh challenges. The 10 leading Race to Dubai points winners not already exempt receiving PGA Tour cards has been one of the most controversial things to arise from the Strategic Alliance, but Pelley refuses to accept that it is in any way detrimental to the DP World Tour.

“The strategic alliance has been a game-changer for our business,” he said. “There is no question. In the midst of global uncertainty, we have guaranteed purses and [our] earning potential is at an all-time high. I look at that and say we weren’t prepared to do the deal unless those 10 cards were in there. Last night Matthieu Pavon finished seventh in his first tournament [the Sony Open in Hawaii] and won $250,000. All he said to me was, ‘thanks, Boss.’

“That’s a wonderful opportunity for him, and I do believe that he’s playing well. He’ll come back though. And when he does play in the Open de France this year, he’ll be a bigger name. He’ll be a bigger draw. So people need to understand all of the details behind it and the rationale behind it.”

The June 6 announcement that the PGA and DP World Tours had buried the hatchet, so to speak, with LIV and the PIF was widely criticised for a number of reasons, not least because the players were blindsided by the agreement or because, as many felt, that it was the inevitable result of going to war with a much better financially equipped opponent.

Nevertheless, Pelley says he welcomed the decision and thinks that it can only be good for men’s professional golf in the long run.

“I was overjoyed with what transpired,” he said. “That set us off in the right direction. And I still believe it’s the right direction. What it means in terms of what the product looks like down the road, that is the second step in the process, not the first step. I’m not really worried about what happens with the product. The product will develop based on what is great for the game if you are all together in a room. And right now there is a will to get a deal done quickly. This is a global game and we need a global schedule that is unified. That’s what I believe.”

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