Tiger Woods joins PGA Tour board as Saudi deal talks continue

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  • Tiger Woods is joining the PGA Tour’s policy board as its sixth player director, a concession to its players as negotiations continue over a deal with Saudi-backed LIV Golf.
  • Last month, former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson resigned from the board, citing concerns about accepting Saudi investment — something others in the tour, including players, have raised.
  • The tour and LIV so far have reached a framework agreement, but the deal, which has come under lawmakers’ scrutiny, has yet to be finalized.

The PGA Tour on Tuesday said Tiger Woods would join its policy board, a concession meant to give players more input and oversight as negotiations continue for its controversial deal with Saudi-backed LIV Golf.

Woods joins the board less than a month after former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson resigned due to concerns regarding the Saudi investment.

The move comes as controversy has surrounded the tour since it announced a proposed deal that would see it combine with LIV Golf, which is backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, an entity controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Europe’s DP World Tour.

Until the proposed deal was announced, the PGA Tour and LIV were embroiled in antitrust lawsuits – lobbed at each other – as players left the tour for big paydays at LIV. The lawsuits have since been squashed.

So far, only a framework agreement has been met and PGA player directors will have to sign off on an eventual definitive agreement. The proposed deal has been met with ire and confusion from lawmakers, members of the tour and fans.

‘For the players, by the players’

The tour said it reached this new agreement to ensure it “lives up to its mission of being a player-driven organization, ‘for the players, by the players.’” Woods will be the sixth player director on the board, which also includes five independent directors and the PGA of America director.

Other player directors include Patrick Cantlay, Charley Hoffman, Peter Malnati, Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson.

“This is a critical point for the tour, and the players will do their best to make certain that any changes that are made in tour operations are in the best interest of all tour stakeholders, including fans, sponsors and players,” Woods said in the statement. “The players thank Commissioner Monahan for agreeing to address our concerns, and we look forward to being at the table with him to make the right decisions for the future of the game that we all love. He has my confidence moving forward with these changes.”

Last month, Stephenson stepped down. In a memo viewed by CNBC, the tour said its four remaining independent directors, in consultation with its player directors and PGA director, would work together to fill his position.

Stephenson said in his memo to the board that he had “serious concerns” about the proposed deal and whether he could objectively evaluate or support it due to the U.S. intelligence report assessing that the Saudi crown prince ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

PGA Tour golfers have voiced frustration the proposed deal was announced in June. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said he had expected to be called a hypocrite and accepted the criticism.

Aside from the antitrust lawsuits – and the tour’s push to keep its players from leaving for LIV, as Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau did – LIV has been surrounded by controversy and criticism since its launch in 2022 since it’s backed by the Saudis. Critics have accused the sovereign wealth fund of “sportswashing” by using LIV to distract from the kingdom’s history of human rights violations.

Players came together “to uphold the tour’s core principles and ask that certain steps be taken immediately,” the tour said in a statement, adding that Monahan agreed to support the players and their requests.

In addition to Woods’ appointment, Monahan said the tour will work together with the players to amend the policy board’s governing documents to make it clear no major decision can be made in the future without prior involvement and approval of the player directors.

The proposed deal with PIF came together over a span of weeks, during which board members met with Saudi officials. Players learned of the deal either right before or when it was announced.

The latest agreement with the players includes that Colin Neville, the player directors’ special advisor, will be in the loop regarding the negotiations contemplated by the framework agreement. It also adds that player directors will have full transparency and the authority to approve or decline any potential changes to the tour as part of the negotiations.

So far, only a framework agreement has been met between PIF and the tour, which says it would create a for-profit subsidiary of the PGA Tour, and the new entity would manage commercial assets for all the tours. The tour would manage competitions, and has said it is leading the negotiations reach a finalized deal.

Tour representatives have defended and testified about the deal to a Senate subcommittee, saying they believe the PGA Tour would benefit from the proposed deal. Policy board independent director Jimmy Dunne said during his testimony that if the deal is completed, the tour would “definitely stay intact and becomes more powerful.”

Documents obtained by lawmakers showed that a proposed idea would have seen Woods and McIlroy own LIV golf teams and participate in at least 10 league events.

McIlroy has been one of the most outspoken critics of LIV, as well as the deal. He expressed agitation that the proposed deal was being referred to as a merger.

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