Pga Tour Selects Fenway Group Among Private Investors. More Talks Planned With Saudis

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with his Race to Dubai trophy after the final round of the DP World Tour Championship golf tournament, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland poses with his Race to Dubai trophy after the final round of the DP World Tour Championship golf tournament, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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The PGA Tour has narrowed its choice of potential investors to a new consortium led by Fenway Sports Group and said it would continue negotiations with Saudi Arabia's national wealth fund as it races to meet a Dec. 31 deadline.

The PGA Tour board — six players and five independent directors — sent an email to players Sunday afternoon to say Strategic Sports Group was the unanimous choice to further negotiate a potential partnership in the new PGA Tour Enterprises.

The new for-profit company was at the heart of a framework agreement announced June 6 among the PGA Tour, European tour and the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi financial backing of LIV Golf.

“We also anticipate advancing our negotiations with PIF in the weeks to come,” the board said in the email to tour membership. “Please know that while we can't get into more details at this time, we are very confident in an eventual, positive outcome for all players and the PGA Tour as a whole.”

The update came three days after Masters champion Jon Rahm, for two years a consistent voice against the 54-hole, no-cut rival league, bolted for LIV Golf in a deal that various reports put in the neighborhood of $500 million.

The agreement includes the Dec. 31 deadline to finalize the deal, and signing Rahm away from the PGA Tour was an indication that without Saudi involvement in the new commercial enterprise, the PIF has more than enough money to lure away whomever it wants.

“It’s a really nice play by them,” Jordan Spieth said Friday. “I think we hold the best hand, but they know what our hand is. It’s a nice leveraging tool with everything going on.”

Several private equity groups expressed interest in investing in recent months, and the tour board last month narrowed the group to five, including Fenway Sports Group, Acorn Growth and Liberty Strategic Capital.

The group the board unanimously chose was described as a consortium of American-based professional sports teams, led by Fenway Sports Group.

Strategic Sports Group includes owners Marc Attanasio (Milwaukee Brewers); Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons); Cohen Private Ventures (New York Mets); Wyc Grousbeck (Boston Celtics); Tom Werner and John Henry (Boston Red Sox); Tom Ricketts (Chicago Cubs); and Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks). Others in the group include Gerry Cardinale, managing partner of RedBird Capital who has ownership in AC Milan.

Lasry, Blank, Cohen and Werner also are team owners in the TGL league founded by Tiger Woods, who is on the PGA Tour board, and Rory McIlroy, who recently left the board.

Acorn Growth was believed to include Randall Stephenson, the retired AT&T chairman who resigned from the PGA Tour board in July over objections to its deal with Saudi Arabia.

However, Stephenson wrote to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan last Tuesday to say he has no interest in Acorn or its proposal, only that he has responded to Acorn questions about putting together an attractive proposal. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter.

Stephenson said he also provided similar input to Liberty Media but that “I felt it would be inappropriate to engage directly as an investor or event paid advisor.”

Monahan had said he would be meeting the Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, last week until it was postponed. It was unclear if they would be meeting this week. PIF is the presenting sponsor of the Saudi Open this week, which concludes the Asian Tour season.

Sports Illustrated reported last week that PIF originally was willing to pump in $2 billion into the new commercial enterprise, with an additional $1 billion for an equalization pool to reward PGA Tour players who turned down Saudi riches to join LIV.

Rahm's signing now gives LIV seven of the last 14 winners of major championships, including three of the last five — Rahm, Brooks Koepka (PGA Championship) and Cameron Smith (2022 British Open).

Rahm is likely to get his own four-man team, and more defections are likely.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf