On the eve of the second edition of LIV Golf Adelaide, South Australian premier Peter Malinauskas provides an insight to how his state landed the ‘World’s Best Golf Event of the Year’. 

Politics and sport rarely mix. When they do it can be a volatile cocktail. Such was the case when LIV Golf sought to stage its first golf tournament on Australian soil.

South Australia endured a tough negotiation process to usurp rival states for hosting rights to the first LIV Golf event. Central to the negotiations was Peter Malinauskas, the premier of South Australia since March 2022.

While the Malinauskas government is credited with ending South Australia’s state of emergency for COVID-19 after 793 consecutive days (in May 2022), it’s likely many of his state’s residents will fondly recall his role in bringing big-time golf Down Under.

▶ ▶ ▶

When the LIV Golf opportunity was first put on your desk, what were your initial thoughts?

I am a sports lover through and through, so golf is probably one of the sports that I loosely follow. When the whole LIV concept started, I was probably like most people, trying to get my head around it and unsure about it all initially. But when I actually spent a bit of time looking into it and understanding the proposition, I guess what really struck me as being important was [how] there was a genuine effort to take the highest quality golf in the world to markets that have been deprived.

I came around to a view pretty quickly that if someone is trying to take the world’s best golf and actually bring it to Australia in a conservative way, then that would be a good thing for Australian golf and Australian golf fans. I figured there was an opportunity there. When the South Australian Tourism Commission made it clear that LIV were in the market for a state to play host, they asked me, “Is this something we should be going for?” I said, “Let’s go for it, but let’s go for it to win it.”

▶ ▶ ▶

They say politics and sports should never mix. This was obviously a politically sensitive issue, particularly in America with the Saudi connection. Talk through the initial backlash and how you dealt with it.

I thought about it beforehand, not about how it’ll play out politically, but more about what’s the right thing to do here. We did ask questions internally and did examine that issue and asked what is the principled path here? When you actually go through the issues, it became pretty clear that to oppose LIV would be a position of hypocrisy for Australia at large. The federal government makes decisions about what countries we partner with and what countries we trade with – what countries we have formal diplomatic relations with.

We absolutely have points of difference with Saudi Arabian policy. No different to us having points of difference with policy in China or other countries. But that doesn’t mean we disengage with them or deny investment opportunities where they exist. We do that in some instances, like with Russia for instance… We’re a massive exporter to Saudi Arabia with some of our grain. So I don’t know how you can say yes to exporting grain and no to having a golf tournament. Once you adopt a position that is consistent, it became clear to us this is an opportunity.


The other thing is I also did a bit of work examining who’s actually making these arguments about the Public Investment Fund. It was all the same people that are seeking to protect the PGA [Tour]. They were the people pushing that line, nobody else. Things have come out in court cases to demonstrate the extraordinary lengths that proponents of the PGA [Tour] went to push some of these lines to serve their own purposes, despite the fact there are examples of them taking sponsorships from this very same source of funds.

Once we formed a view this was a perfectly legitimate endeavour, consistent with principal decisions the federal government had already made – federal governments under both political persuasions – we just focus on the facts about what’s the opportunity before us and if it’s in the state’s interest.

▶ ▶ ▶

Why do you think professional golfers have suddenly become the moral compass politically for Saudi Arabia?

I think the short answer to that is because it was in the PGA [Tour]’s interest to try to do as much damage as possible to a potential competitor and golfers found themselves in the firing line of that.

But all that’s over now because the moment Jay Monahan sat next to the PIF chairman, all those arguments – that were supposedly from a moral high ground – were instantaneously demonstrated to be a temporary self-serving position. The moment the announcement came out, that PIF and PGA Tour were seeking to work together… I think it became clear those arguments were just a means to an end.


▶ ▶ ▶

Can you recall your first conversation with Greg Norman? He obviously made a very good pitch to you. Can you run us through that initial conversation?

I can very clearly recall the first conversation we had via telephone. It was late on a Saturday evening, Adelaide time, and I said to him, “Listen, Greg. You’ve got options about where you can play this tournament in Australia. I’ve got two principal submissions to you. The first is a nostalgic one. It’s where you won the West Lakes Classic, your first ever professional tournament. There’s a nostalgia and affinity here, which I want to deploy to our benefit.” Then I said, “The second more substantial issue is this: LIV is a breakthrough concept and we see ourselves as a government seeking to break through on some big opportunities that we’ve got for our state economically.” I said, “Greg, you don’t want to die wondering; nor do we. Put your confidence in South Australia and what I commit to you is that you’ll have a partner in the state government that’s all-in on making this work.”

▶ ▶ ▶


Was there a moment at the 2023 tournament when you just knew straight away you’d made the
right call?

There were two moments. One, when it sold out. The only point of difference we’ve had with LIV along the way is ticket numbers. Because if it was sold out, I was saying, “Look, can’t we sell more tickets?” There’s a genuine issue around that, which we’ve worked through with them.

Then… on the Friday night and one of the LIV Golf staff or officials said, “Come and look at the after-round functions. Come and check out DJ Fisher.” It was all the hype, it’s not really my thing. They said, “Come on. Just come with me and check it out.” I went down there and it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was heaving people from all demographics and all ages just thoroughly enjoying themselves… You know what was really good? The concert finished, people had a couple more beers and went home. It didn’t kick on until midnight or anything. It wasn’t distasteful in any way, it was just people having a bloody good time. I just thought, How is this bad for golf? It’s certainly not bad for South Australia. That’s when I knew this is different, and it’s good, and there’s a market for it. 

Brought to you by:

Getty images: Mark Brake