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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Europe’s Top Two Golf Leaders Step Down As Saudi Talks Loom

  • The CEOs of the R&A and DP World Tour are stepping down.
  • Both organizations have not ruled out investment from the PIF.
Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Europe’s top two golf organizations are suddenly undergoing leadership transitions as the professional game continues to sort out investments from LIV Golf’s Saudi Arabian financial backers.

The DP World Tour (formerly known as the European Tour) is working alongside the PGA Tour in negotiations with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which wants to inject at least $2 billion into pro golf’s top two tours. This week, DP World Tour CEO Keith Pelley announced his exit, and his No. 2 executive, Guy Kinnings, was named as replacement. Pelley is leaving to become president and CEO of Canadian sports behemoth Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Meanwhile, Martin Slumbers is stepping down as CEO of the R&A, the governing body (and British counterpart of the United States Golf Association) that runs the Open Championship. Slumbers will work through this summer, but a replacement hasn’t been named yet. Last summer, the R&A became the first organizer of one of golf’s four major championships to entertain investment from the Saudis, even hosting PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan at the Open in July.

Power Moves 

The executive shake up is key because Kinnings and Slumbers’s eventual replacement will gain significant control over pro golf via two of the seven positions on the Official World Golf Ranking governing board. The OWGR has so far resisted efforts by LIV to receive rankings points. Notably, the fallout from some top players joining LIV—and no longer receiving ranking points—is leading to what could be the smallest Masters field in decades.

Financially, the commercial operations of the DP World Tour, which will pay out nearly $150 million in prize money this year, could soon end up under the control of PGA Tour Enterprises, the new for-profit entity that would also control the PGA Tour and LIV Golf’s business dealings if an agreement with the PIF and other investors is finalized. If the R&A were to strike any sort of deal with the PIF, it would open the door for golf’s other three majors to take Saudi money and potentially create an easier path for some LIV golfers to qualify for majors.

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