Action Replay – To a tee

It might be thought that golf is a rather straightforward game: hit a ball with various clubs until it finishes in the cup. But behind that is a great deal of controversy and power play.

For one thing, the design of golf balls will be modified so that they cannot be driven quite so far. Tee shots are likely to be about fifteen yards shorter for top players and less than five yards shorter for recreational players, with the changes not being introduced for a few years yet. According to the chief executive of the R&A (which runs the game in the UK), ‘the sport has to take its responsibility and be cognisant of our environmental and sustainability impacts. Making golf courses ever longer, we start to run out of property and it is not environmentally responsible.’ Good to see that they are taking things so seriously.

NEUBURG AN DER DONAU, GERMANY – JULY 23: Detail of a driver and a golf ball during Day Three of the Big Green Egg German Challenge powered by VcG 2022 at Wittelsbacher Golf Club on July 23, 2022 in Neuburg an der Donau, Germany. (Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

A far more thoroughgoing change to professional golf, though, is the emergence of the LIV Tour (the name refers to the Roman numerals for 54, the number of holes played at LIV events). This may well have an influence similar to that back in the 1970s of World Series Cricket, set up by tycoon Kerry Packer, which had a big impact on television rights and players’ income. LIV Golf is financed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, and is aimed at establishing a new golf league to rival the PGA Tour. It is all part of the attempt to present a positive view of Saudi and its rulers (see the October 2023 Action Replay).

The biggest recent signing for LIV is that of Spanish player Jon Rahm, ranked number three in the world, who had previously said he would not be joining it. He is, according to some reports, going to ‘earn’ £450m or more in the deal. He says he plays golf for the love of the game, and that he is ambitious but not greedy. If Rahm is indeed going to be paid that kind of money, then it will certainly not come from the LIV circuit’s income from golf, which was less than $100m last year. Clearly the money to pay him will be sourced from Saudi coffers.

There was originally a lot of argument and criticism between LIV and the more ‘traditional’ game. Joining LIV means a player cannot take part in the Ryder Cup international team competition, but no doubt that is a rather minor consideration. LIV golfers are now being allowed to play on the European tour, despite being previously barred. So perhaps the conflict is gradually settling down and a way of existing alongside each other will be arrived at, one that benefits the power-holders, and maybe the players too.


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