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Inside The Ropes: The State of the DP World Tour Union

A Veteran Caddie's Perspective on Globalization, Power Struggles, and the Future of Professional Golf

The author of “Inside the Ropes: The State of the DP World Tour Union” is a veteran caddy on the DP World Tour. He’s been on the bag of various touring professionals for over 20 years. Since before the Race to Dubai and (way) before the partnership with DP World when it used to just be called the European Tour. He’s been there for it all.

If you enjoy this article, he detailed his entire 2023 season caddying on the DP World Tour in a book called The Secret Tour Caddy: A Year in the Life of a Professional Caddy on the European and PGA Golf Tours. His book was published by Pitch Publishing in February of 2024 and is available in “all good bookshops”.

It’s also available on Amazon, both paperback and for kindle.

Two topics have dominated the chat groups I’m in this last week.

Firstly, and fairly obviously, The Masters. But less obviously, a lot of the talk amongst us caddies was about how funny it would be if someone from LIV Golf won, if only just to listen - and watch - a good few of the PGA Tour sycophants on US TV having to say nice things about him, and pretend they’re pleased. When all they really wanted to do was say how 54 holes doesn’t prepare you for majors, how the level of competition on LIV Golf was to blame for so-and-so not winning, etc etc. Utter BS obviously. And not that that happened anyways.

But the second, and way more interesting topic, was the state of the DP World Tour. Mainly brought on by everyone’s 3rd case of jetlag in the last month or so. The first on the way out to Singapore in March, the second when everyone went home again due to an inexplicable two week break in the Far East Swing, and a third this week when everyone says Konnichiwa to Japan and more yet jetlag. Before getting it again on the way back to Europe in two weeks time.

And that’s the reality out here for the first few months of the year on the DP World Tour: it has to come out to the likes of Singapore, Japan and China to be able to offer a full schedule to the players. So the closest any of us get to the tour’s HQ at Wentworth in the first four months of the year is the tournament in Bahrain, a mere 3,179 miles east, while collecting entry stamps on our passports from the likes of Dubai, Bahrain, Qatar, Kenya, South Africa, Singapore, and India.

But having a full early season schedule does come with a price: pretty meagre prize funds. Prize funds in fact that no PGA Tour player would even get out of bed for. Let alone anyone on LIV Golf where the runner-up cheque of $2,250,000 is the TOTAL prize fund in Japan this week. Stop and think about that for a moment.

The winners of both PGA Tour Signature events and LIV Golf events will take home more than the total prize pool of some DP World Tour and Asian Tour events combined.

And it’s this that is perhaps the best example of how the DP World Tour is, and always has been, the poor relation of the PGA Tour with its minimum $6m prize funds. To the point where in 2024 it looks more like the forgotten man of world golf than ever before: the lost little boy begging for its “strategic alliance” scraps from the big boys’ table.

And even then the scraps that are handed down, like a couple of co-sanctioned events in the US around The Open and a “pathway” to the PGA Tour for the top 10 on the Race to Dubai each year, well these come at a price: entry into the bigger events on the DP World Tour for PGA Tour players after their regular season ends, less OWGR points (discredited as it is), and veiled threats about any participation in LIV Golf Q School.

None of which are really in the interests of the majority of DP World Tour members are they? More the reality of signing a “strategic alliance” with a tour that has very different goals from your own. One who will always act in self-interest. And one not adverse to an unapologetic full about turn in the name of preserving their monopoly in world golf.

Was there an alternative?

Well obviously as caddies we are not privy to all, indeed to any, of the machinations behind the scenes, but we are uniquely placed to get a sense of what is going on. And so we pretty much all agree that, in hindsight, the DP World Tour not engaging in some way with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (the PIF) when they had the chance does not stand up to too much scrutiny.

Because once they arrived on the scene, the Saudis were never just going to go away. Culturally that would have been a no-no. And besides they had the vision to spot the weaknesses of what was effectively a cartel in world golf, and the money to do something about it. Even if that was just to buy their way in.

So I think real leadership and vision would have gone straight to the end game and worked out a way of “welcoming” the inevitably of this money, but in a way that maintained the “name on the tin” of PGA Tour or DP World Tour. Or maybe in the case of the DP World Tour that was something outgoing CEO Keith Pelley wanted to do, but was faced down, and ultimately defeated, by the inertia of a tour that is resonantly resistant to change, not to mention a hostile PGA Tour facing a threat to its business model (or golf’s eco-system as they preferred to call it). Because the cynical part of me thinks that very well might have been the case.

So it will be very interesting to see what tack the incoming DPWT CEO Guy Kinnings takes on all this. What direction does he steer the good ship DP World Tour in? Does he declare a mutiny from the relative security of the PGA Tour strategic alliance harbour? Will he join forces with the Shark and sail into unknown waters, but secure in the knowledge that any leaks in his ship could be plugged with PIF gold? And what if his crew threaten a mutiny over better playing opportunities at the end of the season for outsiders, or when they finally wake to the fact that they could, and perhaps should, be playing on the same tour for way more money? All that remains to be seen.

New DP World Tour CEO Guy Kinnings, as seen at the Ryder Cup in 2023.

What also remains to be seen is what the future of elite professional golf will ultimately end up looking like. And while I’ve always been of the opinion that ultimately the best will play against the best, more often, in some form of Champions League, for massive money, underpinned in some way by the PIF, getting there looks like it’s going to take way longer than any of us originally thought (caddies aren’t always right). But given that’s ultimately what will happen, then perhaps some baby steps along that road would be a good start. Which puts the FedEx Playoffs in the firing line I think.

Because I think that would be an ideal place to start the change, and create a new end of season best versus the best format where the best HAVE to play. And if you really must, then add some team element into it. But that might not be essential. Make it the “one you really want to play in.” And after that’s a success, the initial series gains more tournaments, and the regular PGA Tour loses a few. And so on until effectively you have that 14 tournament schedule, nicely spaced out around the four majors, and nicely spaced out so that the players have time to really get better between the tournaments.

A selection of players from the worlds top golf tours join for a year-end global golf championship.

And alongside that I really hope that the DP World Tour resets its position and engages, or even ultimately partners with, the PIF, using their money to underpin their entire schedule so they boast the world’s only truly global tour offering global rewards. This might require some backtracking to get there, but everyone knows that’s the right answer. Including the PIF.

This might all take some time, but once you get to something like what we think will happen, then everyone wins.

Golf fans worldwide will get to watch the best versus the best something like 18 times a year. The global golf schedule will cease to be ruled by the NFL schedule in the US. Sunday night watching golf on TV will be magical once again.

Sponsors will massively benefit too. Guaranteed stellar fields at the top end, and a filter down to the “lesser” tournaments on the DP World Tour’s schedule, mean a better return on their investment. New ones will be queuing up.

While for us, yes it still means we’ll be east of Dubai for the first four months of the year whingeing about jetlag, but our bonuses will be way bigger. Making caddying on the DP World Tour a job rather than a lifestyle.

And as for the players themselves, well when having a “good week” goes from being able to pay off your credit card to being able to pay off your mortgage, what’s there not to like? So I defy any of them to argue that one. Especially in front of their wives.

This mini-vision of what professional golf will look like at some stage in the future might not be to everyone’s taste. And absolutely not what some people, particularly in the pro-PGA Tour sections of the mainstream golf media, will want to hear. But ask around inside the ropes, and it’s what those of us with a real insight into what’s going on think will happen.

Just don’t shoot the messenger.