The DP World Tour and PGA Tours have strengthened their alliance to try to fight off an “existential threat” posed by Saudi-funded LIV Golf, who stage their second tournament this week.
The move brings the two circuits closer together until at least 2035.
It comes as three-time major champion Padraig Harrington expressed fears for the future of the European Tour, now rebranded as the DP World Tour.
“It looks like the European Tour is the one that could be squeezed,” he said.
Harrington, Europe’s most recent Ryder Cup captain and winner of last week’s US Senior Open, added: “LIV looks like it’s going to be here to stay.
“In three, four, five years’ time, all of this could be very normalised – and there could be the US Tour and the LIV Tour contending for the hearts and minds of the players.
“Let’s hope that the European Tour can keep up. We do need a very strong European Tour.”
Members of the Wentworth-based DP World Tour were briefed by chief executive Keith Pelley, who revealed they will be able to earn PGA Tour cards if they finish among the top 10 players not already exempt on the European Tour’s money list.
They will also guarantee growth in annual prize funds to its membership for the next five years.
Pelley branded the latest deal, which strengthens a strategic partnership that was originally struck in November 2020, as “a historic day for both our tours and for golf fans around the world”.
Critics will regard the move as turning the DP World Tour into a feeder circuit for the more lucrative and powerful PGA Tour. The Florida-based outfit are also increasing their stake in European Tour Productions from 15% to 40% – thought to be worth £120m.
Both organisations stage their first co-sanctioned tournament at next week’s Scottish Open, when 14 of the world’s top 15 players will be in the field.
“I believe unequivocally that this deeper partnership will now lead to even greater strategic opportunities for both our tours in the future,” said Pelley.
Insisting that such a move had already been in the pipeline, he admitted it had come about more rapidly because of LIV Golf, which has signed up big names such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Lee Westwood to its fledgling circuit.
“This was always the road map,” added Pelley. “This escalated it, the existential threat in LIV Investments escalated what we had already planned.”
Pelley also revealed his organisation were approached by Performance 54, a marketing company acting for Saudi Golf in July 2021.
“In our September board meeting that year we showed the details of that presentation to the board,” he said.
At Tuesday’s briefing to his players, Pelley stated: “You have to trust myself and the board that materially this was not a good deal for the European Tour and its members.
“Most importantly, it was nowhere near the figures being bandied about in the media and in the players lounge over the past couple of months. We have had no further conversation with them since last summer.”
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan added: “We’re on a journey here together as two organisations.
“When you look at the commercial impact, the scheduling impact, all the things that have been delivered in a relatively short period of time by virtue of this alliance, this was the right step at the right time.”
He also did not rule out a full merger between the two bodies. “That day may come in the future,” he said.
Appearing at the same news conference, Pelley suggested the Greg Norman-fronted LIV Golf series would need to alter their business model for his organisation to do business with them.
“Unfortunately Golf Saudi has elected to play outside the ecosystem,” he said.
“They play inside the ecosystem in Formula 1, they play inside the ecosystem in Premier League football, as they do in women’s golf – and I’m a board member of the LET (Ladies European Tour).
“I’ve been consistent that if, in fact, they are interested to play inside the ecosystem, and not launch a rival tour that I think is detrimental to the game at large, then I personally, from DP World’s perspective, would be open – and they know that – to having a conversation.
“But I’m not interested, and that’s why there has been no conversation since the summer of 2021, because they are convinced and they seem compelled to play outside the ecosystem as opposed to inside.”
Pelley confirmed he has refused permission for DP World Tour players to compete in this week’s second LIV Golf Invitational event at Pumpkin Ridge in Portland, Oregon.
The tournament begins on Thursday, the same day as the Irish Open.
DP World Tour officials have yet to decide whether to escalate punishments, which included £100,000 fines and a ban from the Scottish Open and corresponding tournaments in America, for those rebels who played the opening event at the Centurion Club in London earlier this month.