Exclusive: Rebel Saudi golf tour struggling to shift tickets for inaugural event - even for free

Kevin Na - AP Photo/LM Otero
Kevin Na - AP Photo/LM Otero

Crowd turnout for the England launch of the Saudi-backed rebel golf circuit is in doubt after star names struggled to give away tickets for free following apparently slow sales.

Despite the recent £119 million signing of Dustin Johnson to the field, there remains plenty of ticket availability this week, from £67 daily ground passes to £9,792 access-all-areas hospitality.

In a sign organisers are now anxious about turnout for the first event, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter have been among players promoting ticket giveaways on social media.

Yet despite sharing minimum 25 per cent discount codes to their multi-million fan audiences, free tickets - which were limited to the first 100 - were still possible to obtain by Monday lunchtime. Laurie Canter and Sam Horsfield have also been giving away freebies for the series in recent days.

LIV Golf, which is marketing its first event in England as a "first-class experience" for players and fans, has so far declined to go into details about ticket sales, but it was expected to attract 10,000 spectators from Thursday. However, in an interview with Telegraph Sport on Friday, Scott Evans, who hosts the event at his Centurion Club on the outskirts of Hemel Hempstead, accepted prices starting at £67.55 were “the one element they got wrong”.

Targeting a wealthy audience, the 54-hole shotgun-start tournament has lined up big-budget evening entertainment, with after-action music acts including James Morrison and Craig David. Cuisine at the course, meanwhile, is overseen by Michelin-starred restaurateur Jason Atherton.

On the eve of the "draft party" launch, LIV Golf also announced bold plans for its broadcast coverage. Arlo White, the voice of Premier League coverage in the United States for nearly a decade, was a surprise announcement as lead commentator. The 49-year-old recently announced his departure from NBC, but has become better known for his role on the award-winning AppleTV show Ted Lasso. White had previously worked with the BBC at the Olympics, the Cricket World Cup and the Super Bowl.

LIV Golf is hoping to harness changing broadcast habits by streaming on YouTube and Facebook. As a result, there is not expected to be an anchor and team of pundits analysing footage from a studio during breaks. “The LIV Golf broadcast will be unlike anything fans have seen before,” said spokesman Will Staeger. White is joined by former players Jerry Foltz and Dom Boulet as analysts in the commentary box. Su-Ann Heng will also lead on-course commentating.

As Telegraph Sport revealed last week, Johnson, the former world No 1, was paid £119m by Greg Norman to secure his shock sign-up at the 11th hour. Three months after declaring he was “fully committed” to the PGA, the 37-year-old was named among a 42-man field for next week's LIV Golf Invitational, which offers $25m in prize money.

Norman, the rebel series chief executive, had on Monday admitted he was "surprised" by Kevin Na's decision to resign from the PGA Tour in order to compete in his league. Na was among the 42 players initially named, with five more added after the Asian Tour event at Slaley Hall on Sunday. A 48th name will be added imminently, with speculation mounting that it could be Phil Mickelson.

The PGA Tour and DP World Tour have refused to grant players the required releases to contest in the initial £20m event. The scale of any sanctions has not been revealed, but Na said he anticipated facing "disciplinary proceedings and legal action" if he had remained a PGA Tour member.