THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) _ With the backing of one of golf’s biggest names, the promise of some of its biggest money and exposure from TV’s boldest network, the new World Golf Tour on Thursday directly challenged the power structure of the professional game.
The move could nudge the fragmented world of golf, in which many foreign stars are blocked from playing in America, toward unification or throw it into legal chaos.
″I’m proud to announce the formation of the World Golf Tour beginning in 1995 and staging eight events around the world,″ executive director John D. Montgomery Jr. said at the Shark Shootout, which is run by Greg Norman, the blond Australian who stood smiling nearby as the new venture was announced.
Montgomery said the $25-million series of events each will have a $3 million purse that pays $600,000 to the winner and guarantees $30,000 to the last-place finisher. There will be a $1 million bonus to the player-of-the- year and each competing player would get a $50,000-a-year travel allowance.
The $600,000 first-place money is more than twice that offered in the average tour event.
″This is about 30 years overdue,″ said Norman, perhaps the most popular player in the world. He has long been a supporter of a world tour. Currently, foreign players are barred from playing regularly on the American PGA Tour unless they commit to at least 15 tournaments a year.
Many players, including Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Jose Maria Olazabal and Berhard Langer, have refused to make that commitment, chosing instead to play closer to their homes in Europe.
The creation of the new tour, which will be televised by the Fox Television Network, sets up a probable clash with the PGA tours in the United States and abroad.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem indicated Wednesday that he would use his power to prevent players from participating in tournaments that compete with tour events. He said will make no further comment until Saturday at Golf Summit ’94 in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Ken Schofield, executive director of the European PGA Tour, said in England on Wednesday, ″There has to be serious concern over any attempt to undermine the essential elements of tour jurisdiction.″
Norman hopes for a sort of peaceful coexistence.
″Greg Norman has no intention of resigning from the PGA Tour of America,″ Norman said at the news conference. ″But I want to play against the best players in the world.
Montgomery said the eight events would be held in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Spain and Japan. He said 30 players would be selected based on world rakings and that 10 additional players would be given sponsors exemption.
″I think this is fantastic,″ Norman said. ″It has been in my heart now for seven years. Outside of the majors, we really don’t have the best players playing against the best.
″I want to finally see the Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldos, Jose Maria Olazabals and Nick Prices playing against each other week in and week out.″
He said other players were enthusiastic about the new tour.
″Everybody I’ve spoken to, Nick Price, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal, all the responses have been extremely positive,″ Norman said.
A source familiar with the negotiations said that four of the events would be held the weeks before each of the major tournaments - the Masters in April, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July and the PGA Championship in August.
Montgomery would not confirm this.
″We’re not prepared to release dates at this time,″ he said. ″There are still contracts that need to be signed.″
Montgomery said the $25 million needed to fund the tour would come from sponsors and television money.
″Fox Sports is absolutely delighted to be connected with the World Golf Tour,″ Fox Sports president David Hill said. Last year, Fox stunned the sports world by taking NFL football away from CBS. It also landed a deal to televise National Hockey League games.
It was Finchem who broke word of the deal Wednesday when he said that Fox was putting up $25 million for the venture and that Executive Sports, Inc. was running it.
Montgomery said that Executive Sports, a Florida-based firm that runs some tournaments for the PGA, was not involved and that he had left Executive Sports to take the position as executive director of the World Golf Tour.
The announcement comes at a time when the PGA is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for restraint of trade allegations involving its restrictions on foreign players. The European PGA Tour, meanwhile, has been losing sponsors and would be seriously damaged if it lost such big names as Ballesteros, Faldo, Woosnam and Berhard Langer.
The key to the whole plan will be how many big-name players Norman can convince to defy the PGA and play. He indicated that would be no problem, given the response so far.