Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer July 13, 2023, 2:44 PM ET
CloseSenior college football writer Author of seven books on college football Graduate of the University of Georgia
Under pressure from the US Department of Justice’s antitrust regulator, the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) have agreed to remove a non-solicitation clause from their framework agreement that prevented the tour from recruiting and hunting each other’s players, the PGA Tour said Thursday.
The Department of Justice reviewed the framework agreement and raised concerns about the non-solvation clause. The PGA Tour notified its policy board regarding the development.
“Based on discussions with staff at the Department of Justice, we have chosen to remove certain language from the Framework Agreement,” the PGA Tour said in a statement. “While we believe language is legitimate, we also consider it unnecessary in a spirit of cooperation and because all parties are negotiating in good faith.”
“The Framework Agreement sets the stage for an exciting future for professional golf that re-establishes competition at the highest level of the sport and creates the greatest stage for everyone – players, sponsors and fans. Based on discussions with staff at the Department of Justice, we have chosen to remove specific language of the Framework Agreement. While we believe such language is legal, we also consider it unnecessary in the spirit of cooperation and because all parties are negotiating in good faith.”
The entities entered into a framework agreement on May 30 to combine their commercial assets into a new non-profit entity called NewCo. PGA Tour Chief Operating Officer Ron Price told US senators during a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday that PIF is prepared to invest more than $1 billion into the new commercial venture.
According to the framework agreement, the PGA Tour will have a majority of votes on the new company’s board, regardless of the size of the PIF investment. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will serve as chairman of the new company; PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan will be CEO.
The deal still has to be approved by the PGA Tour policy board, which includes five player directors, including Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay.
Even without a non-solicitation clause, it seems unlikely that a player will jump from the PGA Tour to the LIV Golf League while the entities are negotiating the final details of their surprise alliance. LIV Golf CEO and commissioner Greg Norman said its league roster was full for the 2023 season, and the future of the circuit featuring shotgun starts, team competitions and 54 holes was uncertain.
If the deal is finalized, the new corporate board will make a “good faith” evaluation of LIV Golf, and Monahan will have final authority in deciding whether the circuit will be played in the offseason.
PIF has spent over $2 billion funding LIV Golf League in its first two seasons. It lured major champions Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau on guaranteed, multi-year contracts reportedly worth more than $100 million.