‘Home-team’ events, night golf and satisfying hungry fans: LIV Golf has novel future plans

‘Home-team’ events, night golf and satisfying hungry fans: LIV Golf has novel future plans
‘Home-team’ events, night golf and satisfying hungry fans: LIV Golf has novel future plans

ADELAIDE, Australia — Home and away tournaments held at golf courses designed and owned by players. Events under lights in destinations like Dubai and more exotic overseas locations. These are just a few of the ideas LIV officials and players are considering as it looks to reproduce its successful Australian event across the globe.

The inaugural LIV Golf Adelaide tournament in 2023 set a benchmark for the rival league and its brand of 54-hole events that feature shotgun starts, music blaring during play and the “golf, but louder” manta turned up to 11. Last year, LIV officials reported an attendance of 77,000 across three rounds at The Grange Golf Club, a links-inspired layout set on sandy soil near the ocean in Adelaide. This year, the number is expected to be closer to 100,000 after an increase in crowd capacity.

The highlight of LIV Adelaide last year was The Grange’s arena-style par-3 12th dubbed the “Watering Hole,” a setup that samples off TPC Scottsdale’s 16th at the WM Phoenix Open. During the final round, Brooks Koepka’s younger brother, Chase, made a hole-in-one at the 165-yard hole and footage of the bedlam that ensued went viral.

As successful as it was, a question lingered for the fledging league, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. With the league struggling to gain traction, most notably in the U.S., how does it recreate Adelaide’s atmosphere more often?

“Adelaide was one of big moments of LIV in 2023, where a lot of people saw LIV in a different light, how the golf and entertainment model could work,” Gary Davidson, senior advisor to LIV Golf, said on Wednesday in Adelaide. “It’s no secret this set the bar high.”

Two-time major winner Jon Rahm, LIV’s prized offseason signing for 2024, has high expectations leading into his debut at LIV Adelaide considering its comparisons to the Phoenix Open, an adopted home event for the Spaniard who went to college at Arizona State and is based in Scottsdale. “[My favorite events] are usually based on atmosphere,” Rahm said in Adelaide. “That’s why Phoenix Open has been something that’s really interesting for me. In San Diego [Torrey Pines], people have made an incredible atmosphere coming down the stretch.”

Replicating Adelaide’s atmosphere won’t be easy, though. While it was a well-executed event, it also benefited from a perfect storm—albeit one that LIV helped fuel. Australia had been starved of top-level golf since the 1980s, when Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and others would regularly play the Australian Open. The only exposure its educated golf fans had to a significant number of PGA Tour stars was in three Presidents Cups (1998, 2011 and 2019) at Royal Melbourne and as a handful of editions of the World Cup of Golf (2013, 2016 and 2018). There was also the 2001 WGC-Match Play in Melbourne won by Steve Stricker.

The lack of high-profile tournaments contrasted with how successful Australian tour players historically have been on golf’s major tours; 16 men and women from Down Under have won 30 majors between them. Most recently, LIV star Cameron Smith winning the 150th Open at St. Andrews.

Locally, Adelaide’s state government, South Australia, provided financial assistance to stage LIV Adelaide given it is trying to build a sporting capital reputation on par with Melbourne (which will again host the Presidents Cup in 2028) and Sydney. “From the state government’s perspective, it’s on track to meet all the economic metrics particularly overseas and interstate visitation,” South Australia’s premier (governor), Peter Malinauskas, said.

Last year, LIV brought down its roster of 48 players, many of whom are major winners, which has grown from the likes of Smith, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka to include Ryder Cup stars Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton.

“I think Australian fan[base] is pretty hard to recreate around the world, but [in trying to recreate Adelaide] you would pick a city or a country that hasn’t seen good golf for a long time,” Smith said Wednesday. “It worked last year. It’s going to work again this year.”

For that reason, Smith, a six-time PGA Tour winner now with three victories on LIV Golf, feels LIV would have more success with more of an overseas schedule. In 2024, LIV’s 14 events were split between six in the U.S. and eight international including Mexico.

“I can see it definitely working internationally a lot better than the U.S. because there’s just so many [existing] tournaments in the U.S,” Smith said.

Fellow Australian and Ripper GC teammate Marc Leishman, also a six-time PGA Tour winner before joining LIV, identified golf-mad South Africa and the 1.3 billion population of India, as markets that would be ideal for LIV’s brand of golf.

It is believed LIV will go to golf-mad Japan in its 2025 schedule, although the country currently has a DP World Tour event and the PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship.

“You’ve got an opportunity for a tournament in Chile with Torque GC [in the homeland of its captain, Joaquin Niemann],” Leishman said. “You could have an event in South Africa with the lads on Stinger GC [major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel as well as Dean Burmester and Branden Grace]. There’s also all of Asia and India.”

Davidson added, “We are fielding interest from a number of markets and that isn’t contained to just one region.”

He said LIV needed to think outside the box, not just explore rare markets like Australia where golf IQ is high but exposure to annual world-class events is low. Holding one of LIV’s events under the lights is something the league is at least exploring. Davidson said the Ladies European Tour staging the 2019 Dubai Moonlight Classic, held at Nick Faldo’s course at the Emirates Golf Club, was proof the concept of night golf could work.

“There’s never been a full [men’s] professional tour event held under floodlights,” he said. “There are certain markets where it would work better from the research we’re doing.”

The end goal, though, for LIV is to have each of the 13 teams stage a home event, similar to how Smith and his Ripper GC (which includes Leishman, Lucas Herbert and Matt Jones) are the heavy crowd favorites in Australia. Davidson would like to see the home team owning the course and running the event. LIV’s inspiration, as ambitious as it may seem, is the English Premier League in soccer, where grounds like Anfield (Liverpool FC), Old Trafford (Manchester United), Goodison Park (Newcastle FC) and Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) offer incredible spectacles.

“That’s always been part of the plan,” Davidson said. “We’re having those discussions. I’m going even beyond the player owning the course; the players could design the courses and have a home-course advantage. Then, you’d get a repeat venue, you can control the marketing and get a tribal fan base more heavily engaged.”

If you want to know what that looks like, look no farther than The Grange this coming weekend.

Source: golfdigest.com

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