“No, money wasn’t a factor,” Charles Hoyle III said this week in front of a room of skeptical reporters.
So, what is all this about? What makes this nascent series, steeped in controversy and determined to resist tradition, the “future of golf,” as Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and others who signed it have continued.
LIV Golf Weekend event at Trump National Golf Club included serious money – a total purse of $25 million – and went to great lengths to present itself as a golfer with attitude. Or at least personal. There were paratroopers before the first tee was fired and T-shirt rifles during work breaks. Music—pitch rock, top 40, and dance—rang out from speakers throughout the course, even as players lined up in tricky poses.
With a different competition format, LIV is trying to be more than just a new paint for a sport that has withstood the big changes. But so far, with relatively few crowds, modest numbers of online viewers and so much attention focused on peripheral controversies, it is not yet clear whether there will be an audience for the LIV version of the sport — or whether that matters even to the circle’s wealthy stakeholders. .
Trump takes center stage in the run-up to his third LIV Golf
“We firmly believe we can attract a younger audience,” said Atul Khosla, LIV President and COO, in an interview. “…if you look at golf over the years, you’ve gotten older. I think the average viewership is 65 or older. And I think from our perspective, when we’ve looked at a new product launch, we’ve always looked at it from the perspective of “What are we trying to solve?”
For starters, LIV offers golf as an individual and team sport. There are 12 teams with names like Crushers, Majesticks, and Aces. The winning team of four players this week will split $3 million; The individual winner of the event will receive $4 million. But the tournament differs from other organizations in that it features a gun start – each player starts their round at the same time from a different hole in the field – no cut-outs, and the entire event lasts three days, not four.
Traditionalists may ridicule the form as an outsider, but advocates of LIV will contend that the form does not attempt to satisfy the traditionalists.
Mickelson is perhaps the biggest believer — and he has a million reasons, courtesy of the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. He noted that LIV Golf intends to target a global audience with events taking place all over the world. Players cannot skip remote stations. They are contractually obligated to appear.
“We get a lot of money, we skimp on our schedule, and we stick around wherever they’re holding events,” Mickelson said.
Who are Leaf golfers? They range from the famous to the unknown.
The play inside the ropes may sound familiar to any golf fan, but the look and delivery are the biggest departures.
“First, it’s not a 12-hour day, we have to watch golf all day,” Mickelson said. “Secondly, when I think there’s a broadcast partner, I think it will revolutionize the way you watch golf because you won’t have commercials and you’re going to take shot after shot and it attracts Attention to this young generation. “
The Bedminster event aims for a festival-like atmosphere, with a stage set for the Chainsmokers concert at the conclusion of the final round on Sunday.
“We look at this course as our course, and the things you can experience in the stadium or arena, how can we better bring those things to the golf course?” said Khosla, a former NFL executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and before that at Chicago Fire of MLS.
With taps flowing and drinks easily found across the stadium, the atmosphere was light from tee to green. “Nice shot, Phil,” said one fan near the 14th green, “It only cost me $20” – but the crowds in Bedminster were rarely deep, even around the most popular players.
Sometimes a LIV producer can feel like it’s just golf with a soundtrack. Despite the big names drawn by LIV officials from the PGA and European Tours — the 48-player course this weekend included 11 major champions — the field was still an uneven mix of who and what in the world of golf.
Measuring its popularity is tricky, in part because the startup doesn’t seem interested in traditional metrics at these early stages. Unlike other professional golf events, there are no corporate logos and banners littered the course. Although LIV Golf’s social media accounts are active, there is no TV rights deal and no commercials in the live broadcast.
The future of LIV Golf on American TV is uncertain, but it certainly has a future
Less than 1,000 people were simultaneously watching the Facebook live for most of the first two rounds this weekend, while LIV Golf on YouTube was at or over 60,000 viewers for most of Saturday’s second round. In the course, there were much fewer people. Event officials have not announced attendance, although most estimates put it at just a few thousand spectators. Tickets sell for $75 per day but can be obtained on the secondary market for $1 apiece (plus a $5.05 fee via StubHub).
Meanwhile, with its controversial Saudi backing, alliance with former President Donald Trump – whose courses will host the LIV event – and the danger it poses to the professional golf establishment, the actual competition has attracted little attention with three events. (Henrik Stenson, who lost the Ryder Cup captaincy after joining Liv, leads this weekend’s event through two rounds; South Africans Charles Schwarzl and Branden Grace won the first two events.)
Overshadowed by the days leading up to the Bedminster event are Trump and the families of the 9/11 victims, who are protesting the LIV Golf events because of Saudi philanthropists. On Friday afternoon, a few hundred spectators surrounded the 10th tee box to watch Mickelson begin his tour. As the golfer approached his ball, one of them shouted, “Do it for the Saudi royal family!” And Mickelson quietly retreated. He regrouped and fired a shot into the basement when an employee approached the fan and issued a warning.
But most of the fans who roamed Trump’s Bedminster Club were supporting the assembled golfers, raising cameras into the air to record tee shots, yelling encouragement for the big drive, studying giant leaderboards throughout the course and trying to understand the coordination.
The team element may take time for golf enthusiasts to digest, but players have repeatedly cited it as part of the appeal. “I love being able to look at the leaderboard and not only see my name but also look up my buds,” said golfer Patrick Reed.
LIV officials believe the shape is the draw, but it’s also what could jeopardize LIV players’ ability to perform on the sport’s biggest stages. Players expressed few qualms about leaving their previous rounds, but many said they hoped to remain eligible for major tournaments and Ryder Cup events.
While a few players have exemptions in some disciplines, others may miss out because the official World Golf Classification Board has not yet decided if it will recognize the events of LIV Golf.
“I feel like it would be crazy if we weren’t getting any points if we were playing in these big events,” said Abraham Unser.
LIV Golf officials have published plans for the future but have not indicated that they will adjust the format of the competition. The breakaway team has announced plans for the full 2023 season which will include 12 teams competing in 14 events. A press release last week made no mention of the 54-hole format or the beginnings of the rifle, but Khosla said LIV Golf is committed to coordinating it for now and that officials hope OWGR learns of its events.
While many of the game’s stakeholders are concerned about the meltdown hitting the sport, LIV players said they hope the game will support both pre-existing rounds and this startup, complete with a throwback soundtrack.
“The landscape in golf looks good,” said golfer Ian Poulter.