PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan spent much of his annual Players Championship state-of-the-tour address dealing with threats from a spreading pandemic to a rival golf tour.
Of most immediate concern, Monahan said plans to stage the WGC Dell Match Play Championship in two weeks at Austin Country Club continue “full speed ahead” despite coronavirus concerns that prompted the host city to cancel a popular music festival scheduled the week before the world’s top 64 players head to town.
“This thing is so dynamic that you just have to go hour-to-hour, day-to-day, but right now we have every assurance that we'll be in Austin (Texas) for the event,” he said.
The PGA Tour has taken a major first step at thwarting threats of a rival Premier Golf League by announcing on Monday a new broadcast rights deal that will increase coffers to $7 billion through 2030, signaling a dramatic increase in purses.
Monahan announced Tuesday that this week’s Players Championship purse will increase from $12.5 million to $15 million, with the winner taking home $2.7 million. That foreshadows more compensation increases over the next decade, he said.
“I see us getting to $25 million (at The Players), and I see that certainly through the term, if not earlier in the term,” Monahan said, noting that the prize fund for the season-long FedEx Cup which doubled from $35 million to $70 million last year could climb to “perhaps $100 million or more” in the not-too-distant future.
“That's not a commitment, but that's, generally speaking, the kind of growth that I expected for us to see for our athletes,” he said.
“Our players have always had the opportunity to play for meaningful prize money and for meaningful consequence out here, and that's only going to continue to grow and will grow at a faster rate thanks to that great support that we have… We know we have a winning formula, and that's something that we're now in a position to accentuate. We couldn't feel better about our position and our ability to get stronger in the decade ahead.”
Should any tour members choose to still sign on to compete in a proposed Premier Golf League targeted to begin in 2021, Monahan said the PGA Tour is poised to defend itself from an exodus of elite talent.
“We have regulations in place that allow us to protect the interests of our media partners, our sponsors and all of our constituents, and if we got to that point in time, we would take measures to vigilantly protect this business model,” he said.
A PGA Tour task force is handling coronavirus issues and contingency plans on a case-by-case basis. Fears of fueling a global pandemic has caused some sporting events to be cancelled, including the ATP Tour scuttling the BNP Paribas Open that was scheduled to start Wednesday in Indian Wells, Calif.
Austin cancelled its annual South By Southwest music festival next week, raising concerns that the Match Play might suffer the same fate. Monahan said the tour is having ongoing discussions with the Austin mayor’s office and local health officials and that plans to stage the WGC event as scheduled are continuing.
“If your local public health officials feel confident that everybody can enter into a safe environment and that we're protecting the well-being of all folks on-site that we're going to move forward,” he said.
“This really is about a market-to-market exercise and truly understanding what local public health officials, local government officials, what's happening on the ground through our tournament directors in every single market where we play.”