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Saudi-backed golf league announces 8-event series after months of controversy

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Finally, the Saudi-backed golf venture has laid out a real plan.

LIV Golf Investments announced its plan for an eight-event series starting this summer. The controversial LIV Golf Invitational Series, led by Hall of Famer Greg Norman, will start in London in June and include four events in the United States. It will end with an October match-play event at a to-be-determined course.

In total, according to ESPN, the Tour will offer a combined $255 million in prize money. The seven regular-season events will all have $25 million purses, the most ever seen in golf.

A maximum of 48 players will be allowed at each event, and will be split into 12 four-man teams. The 54-hole events won’t have any cuts, and teams will be determined by a draft each week, per the report.

"I want golf to grow, players to have additional opportunities, and fans to have more fun," Norman said in a release, via ESPN. "My mission is to help the game reach its full potential and we know the role of golf as an entertainment product is critical to overall participation in the sport. In many ways, we are a start-up. We have a long-term vision and aim to grow. I believe we have a very bright and exciting future."

Where will the Saudi-backed series take place?

All eight events will work around golf’s four major championships, though at least the first three will directly compete with PGA Tour events.

The schedule, according to Golf Digest’s Dan Rapoport, looks like this:

June 9-11: Centurion Golf Club — London

July 1-3: Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club — Portland, Oregon

July 29-31: Trump National Golf Club — Bedminster, New Jersey

Sept. 2-4: The International — Boston

Sept. 16-18: Rich Harvest Farms — Chicago

Oct. 7-9: Stonehill — Bangkok

Oct. 14-16: Royal Greens Golf Club — Saudi Arabia

Oct. 28-30: Championship — Location TBD

The first three events will take place during the RBC Canadian Open, John Deere Classic and Rocket Mortgage Classic, respectively. The final four events on the schedule will likely take place during PGA Tour events as well, though dates for the 2022-23 season haven’t been released yet. In theory, they would take place opposite the Fortinet Championship, Shriners Children’s Open, The CJ Cup and the Butterfield Championship.

"Our events are truly additive to the world of golf," Norman said, via ESPN. "We have done our best to create a schedule that allows players to play elsewhere, while still participating in our events. I believe players will increasingly make progress in achieving their right to play where they want. We will help in any way possible and will provide golfers with opportunities to achieve their full potential."

The third event on the schedule will take place at former President Donald Trump’s course in New Jersey. Trump was an avid defender of Saudi Arabia during his time in office, even after the murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi. He repeatedly vetoed, blocked or helped block proposals or censures against the country, too. The PGA moved the 2022 PGA Championship from the Bedminster course after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Greg Norman, CEO of Liv Golf Investments
It's still unclear who will leave the PGA Tour for the LIV Golf Invitational Series, which is led by Hall of Famer Greg Norman, but there is a ton of money on the table. (Luke Walker/WME IMG/WME IMG/Getty Images)

Who will play in this league?

Most of the PGA Tour’s biggest stars have distanced themselves from this Saudi-backed venture for numerous reasons.

Several top-ranked golfers, like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and others, did so almost right away. Others who had been linked to it, like Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau, eventually came around and said they were sticking with the PGA Tour.

Others like Adam Scott, Lee Westwood and more have shown interest, though. The most famous among them was Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson drew intense backlash earlier this year after his comments about the league to writer Alan Shipnuck were publicized. Mickelson called the Saudi Arabia regime “scary motherf***ers” to work with, but said he was willing to overlook their alleged crimes and "horrible record on human rights" in order to change how the PGA Tour operates.

Mickelson has since apologized, and has taken a step back from golf. It’s unclear when he will return.

Whether there are enough golfers, let alone top-tier golfers, to compete in the LIV Golf Invitational Series remains to be seen.

What about the PGA Tour?

The PGA Tour has repeatedly slammed the idea of the Saudi-backed golf league, and commissioner Jay Monahan has made it clear that any golfer who leaves his Tour for the LIV Golf Invitational Series will lose his Tour card and likely won’t be getting it back.

“The PGA Tour is moving on,” Monahan said at The Players Championship. “We have too much momentum and too much to accomplish to be consistently distracted by rumors of other golf leagues and their attempts to disrupt our players, our partners and most importantly our fans from enjoying the Tour and the game we all love so much.

“I am grateful for the strong support our top players have shown recently and publicly, and I’m extremely proud that we’ve turned the conversation around to focus on what we do best: Delivering world-class golf tournaments with the best players to the best fans, all while positively impacting the communities in which we play. We are and always will be focused on legacy, not leverage.”

Though a legal battle would surely unfold if a PGA Tour player leaves for the Saudi league and then gets banned for life, some in the golf world are skeptical that many would be willing to risk that happening.

"It seems almost a little too hot to touch right now," an agent told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach. "Maybe guys will surprise me, but I don't see any of them wanting to buck the system right now. Guys have seen how Phil was crucified, and I'm sure that put the fear of God into some of them."