Amid another exciting week of FedEx Cup playoffs, where Patrick Cantlay successfully defended last year’s BMW Championship win, the golf world can’t stop talking about the (top) PGA players-only meeting that took place beforehand.
News broke that Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy pushed the group to support a series of proposals that include more tournaments to attract top-tier players, higher purses, as well as single-day skills competition events.
To those who’ve followed PGA versus LIV developments over the last several months, these proposals look in some way like a concession that merely mimics aspects of the LIV Golf model.
And to some extent they are, but one of the major complaints about the PGA Tour in recent years has been the watered-down fields, with only a handful of tournaments in the rotation that actually draw top talent. And at their core, these proposals seem to address this fundamental critique.
But if the PGA Tour is now in the business of opening its mind to new ideas and altering its structure to compete with LIV (and grow the game), then there’s an obvious opportunity that could bring the fastest-growing demographic into the sport—creating deeper ties with the LPGA Tour.
An Emerging Fanbase
Golf’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the past thirty years. A sport that had been consigned to our grandparents’ generation received an overwhelming breath of fresh air with the emergence of Tiger Woods in the mid-1990s.
His success and star power brought the sport to an entirely new generation of golfers, and we can thank him directly for the quality of golf that we see today because every great twenty-to-thirty-year-old golfer grew up watching a red-clad Tiger demolish fields on summer Sundays.
While the new generation of golfers has their own supporters and fanbases, golf ratings had been on a downward trend until COVID-19. Being one of the few outdoor activities available, golf saw a resurgence.
But among new golfers, a much higher proportion of them are now women. In the past twenty years, the percentage of junior girls in the sport has more than doubled (from 15% in 2000 to 36% in 2021).
Overall, more than 25 percent of golfers are women today—more if you include off-course aspects of the sport (e.g., Topgolf). But despite this recent growth in women’s golf, the PGA Tour earns about 10x the revenue of the LPGA Tour, with much more lucrative sponsorship deals and higher TV ratings.
Ideas for Partnership
Given the PGA’s openness to adjusting its schedule and structure, there is a real opportunity to bring more women into the game. One obvious way to do this is to form deeper ties to the LPGA Tour and find ways to bring the top men and women of the game together.
This would not only show that golf isn’t simply a game for old men, but would also give the great LPGA players out there, many of whom aren’t household names, the platform to demonstrate their talent.
While some of the focus at the players-only meeting was on FedEx Cup points and tournaments to bring elite PGA players together, the crux of the discussion appeared to be about generally finding ways to compete with LIV.
Normally, a business can try to differentiate its product from competitors, or it can go after new markets. The PGA Tour should focus on the latter. And the biggest new market out there right now is women.
The PGA and LPGA Tours could offer a series of single-day skills competitions, either individual or team formats, that pit the best players against one another.
Who wouldn’t love seeing Nelly Korda defeat Patrick Cantlay in a putting contest, or Minjee Lee out-chip Rory McIlroy?
Moreover, why not schedule a major mixed team event with a substantial purse? Recently, the Olympics brought together the top men and women middle-distances runners to compete in the 4x400m, as well as the best swimmers in a 4x100m medley relay.
Golf has the same opportunity to experiment with different forms of competition. These changes don’t need to replace any elements of the Tour or exclude all lower-ranked players, but without serious innovation, both Tours could be in trouble.
Duel Victories for both the PGA and LPGA Tours
The PGA joining forces with the LPGA at these high-profile events would be a win-win for both organizations. This proposal wouldn’t just help the PGA capitalize on the growth of women’s golf, it would also provide the top-tier LPGA players the stage that they unfortunately lack.
The differences in earnings over the course of a tour season are staggering. For example, consider only the top 25 golfers in the PGA and LPGA. During the 2022 season, the average earnings per event is $93,343 for top LPGA players, while the average for the PGA is $301,358 (more than 3x).
One hope would be that through increased exposure, the LPGA could pursue more lucrative sponsorships for its own events and offer its top-notch athletes pay that’s more on par with the PGA Tour.
Greg Norman has stated that his goal is to grow the game generally, and that he’d consider bringing women golfers into the LIV sphere. While no specifics have been announced, the LPGA should be equally worried about its future prospects.
Therefore, brokering some kind of deal that would show a united front between the PGA and the LPGA, while also giving the game’s top players a chance to come together, earn more money, and give all fans of golf (new and old) the most entertaining product possible, seems like a no-brainer.