Numbers are the highest degree of knowledge, if Plato is to be believed, but also the lowest form of thirst for social media gobdaws whose fanciful figures are now considered reliable, or at least repeatable. Take the $600 million widely “reported” as the value of Jon Rahm’s contract with LIV. That sum began as nothing more than speculative slobbering, was amplified by anonymous aggregators, then legitimized by traditional media outlets happy to exploit unsourced rumor in pursuit of traffic. Pity the historians of this period who will someday have to distinguish eyewitnesses from ‘I heards.’
The decay of golf media notwithstanding, comma-heavy contracts that grab headlines tell us only the rough cost of weapons, not what the landscape will look like after the truce. For all of the uncertainties in the sport as we pull the shutters on 2023, ’24 will go a long way toward revealing its future shape, which will largely be defined by a number that’s unarousingly small: 25, or thereabouts — approximately the number of weeks that elite players are willing to work each year.
Everything intended to leverage the presence of top players — major championships, signature events, team competitions — must be shoehorned into that couple dozen weeks, which is why negotiations between the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia are focused more on matters of practicality than philosophy. Those familiar with the thinking of PIF’s governor Yasir al-Rumayyan say that his ‘baby’ is team golf in general (rather than LIV in particular), and he’s insistent it be a significant part of the future. Whatever structure that eventually emerges will by necessity be global, making stops with every stakeholder, including Saudi Arabia. Al-Rumayyan isn’t paying to be bypassed and will need a show-and-tell for the Crown Prince, who isn’t a chap that courtiers are casual about displeasing.
Accommodating every desired component — four majors, the Players and a handful of premier PGA Tour stops, a scattering of events ex-U.S. and a handful of team affairs — effectively means creating a silk-stocking circuit that exists above the tours as we know them, and the ramifications of that are enormous. For regular tournaments that will struggle to draw elite fields. For sponsors paying penthouse prices for what may be perceived as ground floor events. For media partners expected to pay another $6 billion or so through 2030 for a product that the…