Royal Valderrama Club is once again attracting the global media spotlight by becoming the first course in continental Europe to host a LIV Golf tournament, part of the new multi-million dollar super league that brings together many of the world’s top golf stars.
In this interview, Javier Reviriego – general manager of the renowned and prestigious club that hosted the first Ryder Cup on European soil, outside the British Isles, in 1997 – talks about what it means to have LIV Golf at Royal Valderrama and highlights new leisure activities introduced by the league for the enjoyment of spectators. He also discusses the club’s relationship with the DP World (formerly European) Tour in this new phase and gives his opinion on the conflict between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, describing the current situation in professional golf as “convulsive”.

First of all, how are preparations going for the LIV tournament in June?
Everything is actually going very well. At the beginning of May we will start setting up the tents and all the staging involved in a LIV tournament. We are also planning to launch a promotional campaign for the event in the next few weeks.
The pace of ticket sales is very good and we will probably limit capacity so that spectators can follow the golf without any stress. As this is the first year, we think it is especially important that the spectator experience is excellent.

Will there be many differences compared to other events that have been held at Valderrama in recent years?
Without a doubt, the LIV tournaments are much more fan-focused. I had the opportunity to attend the LIV at Mayakoba and I was very surprised by the closeness of players with spectators. There is more interaction and people have more opportunities to be close to their idols.
Overall, I would say it is more than just a golf tournament. Everything is geared towards the public enjoying a great day of golf but also different activities before and after play. There are all kinds of entertainment in the village area and a concert at the end of the round.
Regarding the sporting aspect, I would say that the main difference is the shot-gun start. I had my doubts about this format but I could see that a very special atmosphere is created on the driving range before all the players take to the course. The crowd is very concentrated in one area and this creates a great atmosphere. The same happens at the end, when all the players go to the driving range and spectators can enjoy watching them or visit the village where there are lots of activities.

Is it true there is music played during the round?
Yes, there is a DJ playing music in the background while the pros are playing. It is certainly something different and I was quite surprised. I had the opportunity to ask several players and they all agreed that it didn’t bother them at all. In any case, it won’t be something totally new for us as we had a DJ on the 17th hole in the DP World Tour event in the past.

Speaking of the DP World (formerly European) Tour, we imagine that, after so many years, the decision to move to the LIV circuit was not an easy one for Royal Valderrama Club?
Our relationship with the European Tour goes back a long way and has always been excellent. Great events have been held at Valderrama and will always be part of the history of European golf. Nobody can change that.
Having said that, the reality is that we have had differences in recent years. The objectives we had with the Valderrama Masters were not met. We made a great effort to attract sponsors such as Andalucía, Estrella Damm and Banco Santander. We also worked hard to get the event officially declared of special public interest, and we invested heavily in improving the course. We had a plan with the DP World Tour for the tournament to become a Rolex Series event and unfortunately that didn’t happen. These expectations were not only generated by Valderrama, but the Tour also convinced us that it was possible to convert the tournament into one of the best on the circuit. Of course, it was a difficult decision to end our business relationship with them, especially as we have very good friends on the Tour. We wish them all the best.
In the end, our club belongs to the members and there is a board of directors that has to make decisions for the benefit of members and with the future of the club in mind. In this case, we thought it best to embark on a new project with LIV. We know it is a gamble that entails certain risks but we are willing to accept them.

So the decision not to continue with the DP World Tour was made before LIV came onto the scene?
Before coming to the decision, we made a very detailed analysis of many factors. For us, it is essential to have a good group of players, as we believe that the level of the event is determined by the category of the professionals and the course. The fields that we had had in recent years were not ‘top’; we had only two or three top 50 players in the world.
When LIV came along, we analysed all the pros and cons. Unquestionably, guaranteeing the presence of players of the status of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Cameron Smith, Phil Mickelson, Sergio García, etc., seemed very attractive to us and had a big impact on our decision. Many of these players have never played in Spain before and it will be a great opportunity for golf fans in our country to see them up close.

How do you assess the current situation of professional golf?
It could be said that the situation is convulsive. It is clear that the emergence of LIV has generated a huge earthquake for which many were not prepared.
To put everything into context, I believe the PGA Tour has never really had any competition, and has never feared that its position of total dominance would be affected. We have all seen, over the years, how the best European players went to play in the US (mainly for economic reasons). We have also seen how the PGA Tour announced its schedules without coordinating with the European Tour, or how none of the WGCs were played in Europe.
By this I mean that the PGA Tour has had no problem whatsoever in exercising its power and strengthening its dominant position with higher and higher prizemoney for players. No one can deny that this has progressively weakened the DP World Tour. It is a fact.
Suddenly LIV, a ‘player’ in the game with great financial capacity, comes along and signs several world-class golfers who are also very well known in the media. My opinion is that some people did not measure the situation well or did not have enough capacity to evaluate the consequences of LIV’s emergence. We must not overlook the fact that players are professionals and they make a living out of it. They have every right to make decisions that improve their income.

You mean that the traditional established tours should have negotiated with LIV?
They certainly should have sat down with LIV to listen to their proposals. When a sovereign wealth fund like the Saudi Arabian one makes a decision to invest in professional golf, I think the smart thing to do is to listen and try to understand their approach.
My opinion is that it would have been very easy to reach an agreement and the whole mess that has occurred could have been avoided. I can think of several formats… They could have let LIV sponsor and organise several WGCs (which were in clear decline). They could also have reached an agreement for LIV tournaments to be played after the FedEx Cup. In short, I think that with money and know-how there are many possibilities to organise global golf well. There is no doubt that both players and spectators would have benefited from an agreement.

Do you think there is a way back and that the various parties will be able to come to an understanding in the coming months?
I actually think it’s complicated. The American golf media campaign against LIV has been and is brutal. The “establishment” parties see their business in danger and they have been merciless in their criticism of LIV. I can accept that there is criticism of the format, but I cannot understand criticism of the prizemoney and the fixed fees for players. Many of the pros who criticise the format have spent years getting paid a fixed amount for participating in certain tournaments. In fact, several European players would not play on the DP World Tour if there were no fixed amount involved (no need to name names).
In any case, the legal trial between the PGA Tour and LIV is scheduled for February 2024 and I wouldn’t rule out a settlement before then. For me, the worst thing is the issue of the Ryder Cup. It is a very prestigious tournament, probably the biggest showcase of our sport, and it seems as though some of the best are not going to play. This is difficult to understand. I hope and wish that it can be resolved. It will be very difficult for me to see a Ryder Cup without Sergio García or Dustin Johnson.

How do you see the future for Valderrama?
We have signed up for five years and we expect the tournament to be a great success. We have spoken many times with the LIV team and they have a very clear vision of where they want to go. Of course, we are aware of the challenges ahead, but we will bring all our experience to achieve the objectives.
For the moment, we are going to focus our efforts on putting on a great show so that golf fans in our country can enjoy the event. We will continue to invest in improving the course and presenting it in the best possible conditions. We are going to welcome a group of world-class players and I am sure that the tournament will serve as a great promotion for Andalucía.