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The LIV-PGA merger could transform golf for the better

The sport can attract new fans with innovative technology, infrastructure and a festival-like atmosphere

LIV PGA golf Alexey Milovanov column Reuters/Paul Childs
Stuck in a rut: can golf attract new fans by improving the live viewing experience?

When the great golfing union between LIV and PGA kicked off in June, fans and sporting experts were divided about what the new merger would bring. 

But this partnership could be the injection of interest that golf so desperately needs, particularly through the improvement of the sport’s live viewing experience.

Golf might have survived as being a ‘better on TV’ sport, but the truth is it can’t do so anymore.

The number of live spectators at golf tournaments is plunging. Last year, viewership for the PGA Open Final dropped by five percent compared to 2021. Meanwhile, one quarter of LIV golf viewers were absent following this season’s opening broadcast.  

Lucrative broadcast deals have dominated headlines about the merger, but it is unlikely this will guarantee long-term success. Instead, competition organisers must work to attract new audiences with innovative technology, infrastructure and a festival-like atmosphere.  

Many other sports have innovated to improve the fan experience and even attract new fans while keeping the essence of what makes the sport unique. In contrast, golf remains largely the same as it was over a century ago.

The new merger represents a massive opportunity for organisers to go back to the drawing board and find a new way to boost the sport’s popularity. The way golf courses are currently designed does little to entice new fans to tournaments.

Good vantage points are difficult to find and the game itself can be tricky to understand. Spectators who are unfamiliar with the sport to become confused and disengaged. Most golf courses are hard to access and situated in remote, disconnected locations.    

The key to golf’s future success is to make the game exciting and accessible to a wide variety of fans. But how should golfing bodies achieve this? With the $3 billion that will be pumped into the new PGA/LIV franchise, tournament organisers have a chance to bring the sport into the 21st century.

Building on LIV Golf’s already characteristically small nine-hole courses, the new golf body should downsize and reformat courses.

They should introduce purpose-built infrastructure such as grandstands, hospitality spaces and corporate areas moulded around the grass course. This will allow spectators to see more gameplay at each hole, and speed up play.  

I’ve seen how well-designed infrastructure is essential for the success of sport. At the Qatar World Cup, we built seven completely new stadiums so that numerous games could happen at once, maximising the number of spectators we could host, and shortening the duration of the tournament. 

Organisers should also look to increase the sport’s mass appeal by creating all-new golf festivals. The Hundred cricket tournament is a prime example of how this can be done. 

LIV Golf has already introduced live music to its events, but this could be taken to a new level with a festival-like experience that includes mini driving ranges, food and beverage stalls, fan zones and performances from A-list musicians. 

I’m not suggesting a complete overhaul of golf purely for the entertainment factor.  But there’s room for both traditional competitions with grand, established infrastructure and space for new ideas that will make the experience better for live spectators.

Sovereign wealth funds have already taken significant strides to increase the popularity of new sports like padel. Qatar Sports Investments recently acquired the World Padel Tour. Meanwhile, new mergers will play a crucial role in boosting the appeal of both growing sports and those that are losing spectators – especially golf.

Fans of both LIV and PGA need to stop scrutinising the merger and recognise the opportunities that it could bring to the sport. 

I recognise that the radical changes that I’ve suggested present complex challenges. But if PGA and LIV Golf want to make this potential merger a success, they need to take this opportunity to modernise the sport.

Bringing together LIV’s appetite for innovation and the PGA’s history and name recognition has endless potential for golf. 

Alexey Milovanov is a sports infrastructure specialist, who has managed the construction of some of the world’s biggest stadiums, including the construction of seven stadiums in Qatar for the Fifa World Cup