Soon to depart DP World Tour boss Keith Pelley believes US tour officials are finally prepared to accept the idea that an international approach is the best way to solve golf’s civil war.
Pelley will leave his role as chief executive of the European Tour Group in early April to run sporting franchises in his home city of Toronto. Before he departs, the Canadian is confident a deal to stabilise professional golf’s future will be found.
And he believes the way forward must be worldwide. This would mean the American PGA Tour ditching its long perceived US-centric philosophy and be prepared play some of its biggest tournaments in far flung locations.
“I think the growth of the game is global,” Pelley told reporters here at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. “That’s where the focus needs to be.”
He pointed to the deal which will bring in $3.5billion (£2.7bn) investment from the Strategic Sports Group which includes the Fenway organisation that owns Liverpool football club and the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
“They understand the importance of global. PIF (Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund) certainly understands the importance of being global,” he said.
Talks are under way to conclude an agreement with PIF, which finances the breakaway LIV Tour that lured a number of high profile departures from the American and European circuits, including Masters champion Jon Rahm at the end of last year.
“Every business now that is growing wants to be global,” he said. “You see that here in Dubai. What I would like to see is the game becoming unified with a global strategy.”
Tellingly, Pelley suggested that the PGA Tour is finally coming round to the sort of international schedule that Rory McIlroy says is vital to the future of the game.
McIlroy wants events such as the Australian and South African Opens to become key destinations in a unified calendar.
“I think the PGA Tour is coming to the realisation that global is the key for the growth,” Pelley stated. “They have heard me say it once or twice.”
There remain more questions than answers as to how this might manifest itself, but Pelley is confident the future will look a lot clearer by the time he leaves his post in April.
“I think we will certainly have a direction of travel by then,” he said. “The conversations have heated up since Ryder Cup. We expected that.
“I think there’s a will from all parties. You bring in somebody like FSG (Fenway), which is now SSG, with powerful players like Steve Cohen (billionaire owner of the New York Mets). And then I think there’s a willingness with PIF, and there’s certainly a willingness with us.
“If we can come together, then I think it’s pretty exciting for the game.”
He admits that the framework agreement announced on 6 June, 2023 between the PGA and DP World Tours and PIF was widely misinterpreted. “It was to unify the game,” Pelley said.
“Unfortunately after that framework agreement, some of the top players in the United States didn’t support it, which we needed them to support. I think they are realising now that the best way forward is to unify the game.”
Pelley’s nine years leading the Wentworth-based tour have been eventful to say the least. He came into the job aiming to make the European Tour a viable rival to their American counterparts.
But he needed to change its business model, buying back a 50% share of their media operation in 2017 from the International Management Group (IMG) so that the tour wholly owned European Tour Productions.
Ultimately, 40% of that company moved into the hands of the PGA Tour as part of the ‘strategic alliance’ that was struck between the world’s two biggest golf tours.
As part of that deal, the leading 10 players on the DP World Tour are handed cards to play in the US the following year. It was a controversial move, with some observers suggesting Europe were giving away their biggest talents.
Pelley continues to vehemently defend the move, stating that he acted in the best interests of his organisation’s 486 members. “It’s impossible to make them all happy,” he admitted.
The formalised partnership with the PGA Tour was crucial in ensuring the European Tour – rebranded as the DP World Tour under Pelley’s leadership – survived the Covid pandemic.
One of his most significant contributions during his tenure was creating a 38-tournament schedule in a period when global sport and travel were savagely hit by the impact of the coronavirus.
Now the imperative it to stage tournaments where the best players compete against the best on a more regular basis. Whether that means LIV players returning to the establishment fold remains to be seen.
The men’s professional game is confronted by very complex issues, but Pelley feels sure one of the solutions will be to make sure pro golfers turn up to the biggest tour events and not just the majors.
“I used to run the Toronto Blue Jays, and we had a short stop by the name of Jose Reyes,” Pelley said, trying to illustrate the point. “Jose never once came up to me and said: ‘I’m not playing in the Baltimore series’ or, ‘I’m not going to play in Philadelphia because I’m going to go away with my family for the weekend’.
“There is no question that that is one of the biggest challenges that the game faces, top players playing with top players more, and that’s where we’re moving towards.”