Lynch: PGA Tour board changes prove players can’t run a billion-dollar business as a side gig

Press releases issued from the PGA Tour’s Global Home are usually more noteworthy for what is omitted than what’s included, but are often so artlessly composed that a kernel of truth inadvertently reveals itself. So it is with the announcement of the slate of board members at PGA Tour. Enterprises, the new for-profit entity that will set the future shape of the men’s professional game.

The boardroom has seats for the six player-directors from the Tour’s Policy Board, none of whom have an MBA and most of whom lack a college degree. Four chairs go to Strategic Sports Group, which just invested $1.5 billion into the new company, but nothing was offered on whether those seats will be split if the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund kicks in a similar contribution. The Commissioner and an independent director from the Policy Board swell the ranks of the double-jobbers serving both panels, while Keith Pelley apparently didn’t hear the tune end in this game of musical chairs; his DP World Tour went unmentioned.

It’s the thirteenth man on the roster who warrants attention. Joe Ogilvie competed on the PGA Tour for 15 years before quitting in 2014 to become a money manager. He’s smart and personable, a man who studies the minutiae of the golf business with a fervor that most of his peers can only muster for yardage guides and conspiracy theories. Few people are more invested in or animated about the jacketed side of the PGA Tour.

Ogilvie was named to both the Tour’s governing Policy Board and to the board of PGA Tour Enterprises as a “director liaison” — a position described by HQ as an aide-de-camp for players facing the significant time commitment of serving on two boards. He will be additive and influential, and not only because he gives players a symbolic 7-6 majority in the room. But his appointment is a tacit admission that the prevailing wisdom on Tour — players should be in charge — is twaddle.

A small group of stars has largely assumed directional control of the Tour, but how well that works will depend on how those stars exercise the power they’ve accumulated. In their eagerness to show that they’re the captains now, newly empowered players risk confusing governance with management.

A board ought to focus on the former — strategic goals, organizational health and structure — while leaving operational decisions and execution to an executive team. But this is a member organization and every member has a granular list of grievances around which he thinks the Tour ought to be arranged. The board includes players whose faith in its executives is sorely lacking, and who are themselves overly concerned with score-settling over the secretive Framework Agreement announced on June 6.

It’s fanciful to imagine that a multi-billion dollar business can be run as a side hustle by golfers who are trying to win tournaments or just keep their cards. Even Ogilvie has a day job.

That matters because PGA Tour Enterprises faces numerous issues that are existential. A rudimentary accounting of those:

  • The lack of progress in reaching a deal with the Public Investment Fund, and what must be a gnawing fear that the Saudis are deliberately delaying things to bleed out the Tour’s product strength.

  • The looming expectations of a return on investment — or at least material changes in business operations — by the Strategic Sports Group, a daunting reckoning for a complacent, legacy organization.

  • Broadcast ratings that are sluggish at best, and worrisome at worst, and which suggest eroding consumer interest just as the Tour tries to persuade constituents that they need to invest more capital.

  • Sponsors fed up with being asked to pay more for the same, or less.

  • Tournament directors angry at having to pay higher fees to headquarters, which for many means robbing the charitable poor box to give more to millionaires.

  • Leadership that is still struggling to regain the trust of the membership nine months and one day after the Framework Agreement was announced.

  • Players who are single-mindedly bent on retribution against those who engineered that Agreement, as though the guys who did nothing but hold their own Tour hostage can claim moral superiority over those who tried to do something, imperfect as it was.

  • Rank-and-file members who see opportunities they earned be diminished because of the relentless focus on rewarding those at the top of the pyramid.

  • Stars who insist the Tour’s business be organized around them — and that they be compensated not as the assets they are, but as the owners they imagine themselves to be — while underperforming for the product in 2024.

  • Around all of that, internal and external messaging that only departs from the banal so that it might veer into the blundering.

The PGA Tour has never been in a more precarious position. It’s hardly on the brink of ruin, but there are major systemic issues that aren’t being addressed quickly enough. Some of those are concerns for the board, some for management, but there’s a palpable sense that no one is really happy. The field at Bay Hill has been almost halved to just 69 competitors, and so few were working on Wednesday afternoon that the occupants of the practice putting green barely outnumbered LIV’s spectators in Jeddah last weekend. “Arnold Palmer would be so f****** pissed to see what has gone on here,” one tournament veteran said. “It feels like a member-guest.”

That from a Tour loyalist.

The coming months will expose how Balkanized things have become on the Tour’s Policy Board, which can only bleed into the newly-constituted board of PGA Tour Enterprises given the overlap. There exists no unity of vision for the future of the Tour among the 13 men on this board, at least not yet. Eventually, one faction will win the squabble over who gets to pilot the ship. Maybe then they’ll actually notice that their paying passengers have been quietly disembarking for a while.


Story originally appeared on GolfWeek