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In early December 2023, I stood on the Southern shore of Türkiye, gazing out over the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
I was there to cover the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup, an event that brought amateur players from all over the world to the Gloria Golf Club in Antalya, Türkiye. Over 50 countries were represented, creating the most diverse—and largest—amateur golf tournament on the planet.
And yet, as I stood there in the ancient sea-side city of Side (pronounced: see-day), one word consistently came to my mind:
Over the past few years, we have seen the world divided in more ways than one can count. That motif can be applied to professional golf, too.
Right before our very eyes, we are seeing golf at its highest levels deteriorate. The PGA Tour and LIV Golf have divided the sport. Both sides have explained their reasoning as to why they are better than the other. There have been lawsuits, unfriendly jabs, and numerous diatribes between the two.
Greg Norman, LIV Golf CEO.
Photo by Jason Butler/Getty Images
But each side is guilty for different reasons.
LIV Golf Issues
Let’s start with LIV Golf, which is bankrolled by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom. The PIF has over $700 billion in assets, which has allowed the Saudi Kingdom to invest in sports, tourism, and large corporations around the world.
With that said, the Kingdom has a terrible history of human rights abuses, subjugates women, and restricts any freedom of the press—so much so that the Kingdom dismembered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, Türkiye, in 2018. The Kingdom likely played a role in the 9/11 attacks, too, as 15 of the 19 hijackers on that terrible day were Saudi citizens.
To try to help cleanse these abhorrent actions, the Kingdom has poured its riches into sports. It bought Newcastle United of the English Premier League, substantially invested in Formula One racing, and now started a golf circuit that rivals the PGA Tour.
PGA Tour Faults of its own
On the flip side lies the PGA Tour, a multi-billion not-for-profit that has squeezed millions of dollars out of corporate America to help fund its tournaments and players.
Ever since Tiger Woods burst onto the scene in the 1990s, the PGA Tour has bathed in excess, as Woods brought more eyeballs—and capital—to golf than the sport had ever seen.
The tour thus invited the best international players to play in the United States. This move provided those players with better financial security and global visibility. Consequently, the best players on the European Tour—now the DP World Tour—flocked to the PGA Tour, depriving the European circuit of its talent.
Accordingly, the DP World Tour has become a feeder tour for the PGA Tour. Just look at this past year, where the top 10 finishers on the DP World Tour earned their PGA Tour cards for the 2024 season. Talk about robbing a circuit of its talent—sound familiar? It should. LIV Golf has done the same.
Tiger Woods, 2005 Masters champions, receives his third green jacket from 2004 winner, Phil Mickelson.
But the PGA Tour also ignored Australia, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, and other places around the world. This helps explain why LIV Golf has grown in popularity in areas not named the United States.
As Kyle Porter, CBS Sports Golf Writer penned in his short book Normal Sport 3:
“LIV has done several things well. One is whipping up crowds globally. This has been a big miss by the PGA Tour. While they have developed some in Asia—seemingly to success—they have failed in almost every other part of the world. Perhaps this is purposeful. Building a widespread business is more difficult than building a concentrated one…
“Two things, though: 1. Would it be that difficult to leverage the European Tour partnership and hit up Australia, South Africa, Spain, or Ireland every once in a while? And 2. It represents a real opportunity for LIV to exploit. I originally believed LIV needed to build up an audience before it started globetrotting, but after seeing the experiences it provided in places like Australia, I actually think that maybe they should only play internationally and skip the Nashville-Houston-Tulsa circuit.”
What Porter points to here is division.
The United States versus the rest of the world.
LIV Golf has experienced great success internationally, especially in Australia, as Adelaide hosted the Saudi-backed circuit’s most successful event to date in April 2023. That surely pleased LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a native of Australia.
And LIV can afford to do this because it is bankrolled by an authoritarian regime that powers the world with its oil.
The PGA Tour, of course, does not have hundreds of billions in the bank, and thus cannot afford to traverse the world. But they could have partnered with the DP World Tour, the Asian Tour, and the Australian Tour and staged co-sanctioned events around the globe.
Alas, that never transpired.
So, you can see why many international fans are attracted to LIV. Professional golf has finally come to their doorstep.
Louis Oosthuizen, now a LIV golfer, recently won a DP World Tour event in his native South Africa.
Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images
Professional Golf Remains Divided
This is why the two sides need to settle their differences and figure out a way to unite the best players in the world again.
The powers that be have said they have until Dec. 31, 2023, to strike a formal agreement. Despite that, lips have been sealed, for the most part—other than the PGA Tour announcing its intention to partner with American investors outside of PIF.
But the situation happening in professional golf pales in comparison to events unfolding in the real world.
Division Across the Globe
Four hundred miles to my southeast from Side, Türkiye, somewhere beyond the horizon of the Mediterranean, a humanitarian crisis continued to play out. I was taken aback thinking of how close I was to the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli Defense Force continued to exact its revenge and seek justice against Hamas.
This war has shocked the world, while also dividing people of different religions and political beliefs. The detestable stories that have emerged from Gaza and Southern Israel are sickening, heartbreaking, and demoralizing. This grim reality was further exemplified later in the week when I saw people in Istanbul’s International Airport crying in front of televisions while watching the scenes unfold in Gaza.
And yet, both sides continue to fight, leaving innocent civilians in the crossfire.
Then, when I continued to think about where I was in the world, I was reminded of the crisis happening on the other side of the Black Sea, to Türkiye’s north.
For almost two years now, Ukraine has been besieged by an evil tyrant hoping to exact its revenge on the Western World. Vladimir Putin aims to re-establish the former Soviet Union, which Ukraine used to be a part of. He also wants to re-invigorate Russian nationalism, while strengthening the Russian economy. Being the “Breadbasket of Eastern Europe,” thanks to its extensive agricultural sector, Ukraine became an easy target for Putin to try to accomplish these goals.
Like the situation unfolding in Gaza, harmless civilians across Ukraine have seen their families perish, homes destroyed, and livelihoods dismantled. Millions of Ukrainians have been displaced, with many of those people flocking to Southern Türkiye, where home prices have soared and inflation continues to rise.
Downtown Antalya, Türkiye.
Jack Milko/Playing Through
One person in Antalya told me that because Ukrainians—and many Russians, too—are so desperate to leave their homelands, they are willing to pay any price for an apartment or house in Türkiye. As a result, the housing market has ballooned over the past 18 months, elevating the cost of everything, including basic necessities such as food and water.
Couple that with the devastating earthquakes that shook Türkiye’s Eastern provinces in early 2023; it is no wonder the country is in the midst of a high inflationary period.
Ten years ago, the Turkish Lira to the U.S. Dollar exchange rate was 0.49 to 1.
Since then, the Turkish Lira has spiraled, as the current exchange rate is 0.03 to 1—a 1330% decrease over the past decade, per XE.com.
That explains why Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Türkiye, raised interest rates to a preposterous 66% in recent weeks. The value of the Turkish Lira has plummeted, creating hardships for many within the country.
Upon hearing this, I thought of American inflation back home.
The Federal Reserve currently has American interest rates set at around 5.5%.
Many think inflation has gotten out of control in the U.S., but it does not compare to what is currently transpiring in Türkiye.
Nevertheless, as I continued to stand there in Side, with the shadows of the Ancient Temple of Apollo gazing over my shoulders, my pessimistic feelings became more positive.
The ancient Temple of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, seen as the sun sets in Side, Türkiye.
Jack Milko/Playing Through
Amidst all of this division and hardship that has surrounded and engulfed Türkiye, I began to think of all of the people I had met, all of whom were cordial and hospitable.
Everyone was so friendly, even though I looked, talked, and likely held different beliefs than they did.
And the same can be said about everyone I met at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup. I befriended people from Pakistan, Austria, Germany, South Africa, France, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, and many other faraway places.
That is the power of humanity.
But it also shows the strength golf has across all works of life.
I was in Türkiye to cover a golf tournament that brought together hundreds of people from around the world to one of the most beautiful places on the planet.
People became lifelong friends over their shared love of the game, enjoying each other’s company while laughing and joking about good shots and bad.
I got to experience this first hand, as I played a round with two people from Pakistan and another from Hamburg, Germany.
Even though English was not any of my fourball’s first language, we had a fantastic round filled with laughs, jokes, and smiles. All four of us looked so different from each other and spoke various languages, and yet we bonded over a game that millions around the world love.
Gloria Golf Club in Antalya, Türkiye.
Jack Milko/Playing Through
Which leads me to disclose another takeaway from my experience in Türkiye:
The amateur game has never been stronger.
Golf is addicting to people all over the world, not just to those at your local muni, your country club, or among your college buddies.
Yet, the professional game has never been more divided.
Amateurs like you and I watch the pros for our entertainment, to learn, to love, and to sometimes laugh at how absurd their otherworldly skill is.
Which is why the PGA, DP World, and PIF need to figure things out. They must put their differences and judgments aside, get in a room, and settle their differences. An agreement is a must.
The entire sport of golf depends on it, including amateurs like you and me.
So, hopefully, 2024 brings about more peace to not only golf, but to the entire world. Because 2023 was a year marred by destruction, disaster, and division.
Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.
Source : SBNation