Britain and the Middle East will stage Saudi-funded golf tournaments on the Asian Tour as part of a new 10-event series that marks the latest move in an increasingly bitter battle for power with the sport’s two main tours.
The International Series is being funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and fronted by former world No. 1 Greg Norman, who has been behind attempts for a proposed breakaway super league which could tempt players away from the U.S. PGA Tour and the European tour.
The series, Norman said, will soon be headed to the United States, too.
“Healthy competition and respectful competition should be spread globally. That’s why we’re not going to geofence this,” Norman said at Tuesday’s announcement, which came ahead of this week’s $5 million Saudi International on the Asian Tour.
“That’s why it’s so encouraging that we can go to London. It’ll be so encouraging when we go to the United States. Remember what I said, this is just the beginning.”
The series, described by Asian Tour chief executive Cho Minn Thant as “a level up” compared to regular events on the tour, will start in Thailand from March 3-6 and include a stop at the Centurion Club outside London where the prize purse will be $2 million. Two more tournaments will be in the Middle East, he said.
The tournaments will be open to players from other tours.
Many of golf’s top players, including Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, have chosen to compete this week in Saudi Arabia — where appearance money is lucrative — instead of on the tours either side of the Atlantic.
Rights groups have criticized players for appearing at events funded by Saudi Arabia because of the kingdom’s human rights record.
Norman insisted he is simply helping to grow the game.
“We’re not in this for a fight, there’s no question,” said the Australian, speaking in his role as chief executive of LIV Golf Investments, which has increased its injection of cash to the Asian Tour to $300 million. “We’re in this for the good of the game. That’s where we’re at.
“It’s disappointing to be honest, personally disappointing, to see some of the attacks that have been taking place unwarrantedly. If you pre-judge anybody without knowing the facts, then shame on you, to be honest with you.”
Norman envisages carving up golf like a piece of pie.
“So these institutions you’re talking about,” he said, referring to the two main tours, “if a piece of that pie has disappeared, does the pie get smaller or does the pie get bigger? We see the piece of pie that we’re taking, the opportunity to see through the lost opportunity, makes the pie bigger.”
Asked if he still had plans for a super league, Norman said: “Will there be things announced in the future? Absolutely … but right now our focus is on this. Our mission is to make sure this platform is firmly cemented in the world of golf and where we see it sitting, and we’ll focus on that, and then there will be another announcement, and then there will be another announcement.
“This journey, this is not a one-off journey. You want to sit back and see the evolution and how this is all building out. It’s going to be an incredible one.”
No specific dates were announced for the later events in the International Series, nor did Norman confirm whether any top players had signed up yet to appear. There’s also the question of how and whether players on the European tour and PGA Tour would get releases to play on the Asian Tour.
The March 3-6 event in Thailand will clash with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on the PGA Tour and the Kenya Open on the European tour.
“Understand the fact that we have always and continue to be very collaborative and cooperative with any of the institutions right across the board,” Norman said. “We want to work together side by side.”