Golf: The TV Debate

By Daryl John Symonds 

This week sees the return of the British Masters, debuting at Close House near Newcastle. 

The event is officially named ‘The British Masters – with Sky Sports.’

I sit here, writing this after watching the Hero Challenge live on Sky; in which host Lee Westwood took home the trophy for the first time. I have to admit, it was a lot of fun to watch and refreshing for the game. If you like your Darts & Snooker, you would have noticed the hyped up entrances and pyrotechnics introduced at all major events.

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Luke Donald at the 2016 British Masters, The Grove, Herts

For some of the traditionalists, it may be slightly cringey to watch but I believe Sky over the past few years have made a decent effort at developing the game and attracting a new audience.

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with 2107 British Masters host Lee Westwood, South Africa 2006

Having worked in the industry since 2002, I know how hard it is to attract new golfers; junior membership has always been a struggle in the UK.

Membership, equipment costs, private clubs stuck in the 19th century and the lack of golf on terrestrial television (…does that even exist anymore?) are blamed for the lack of interest in young Brits. The argument in past chats with colleagues and friends always came back to the Sky issue. 

Love or hate them, their Golf coverage over the last 25+ years has been undeniably progressive.

Back in 1997 at 11 years old, my parents had Sky installed. For any 11 year old that loved golf, football and trashy American TV; Sky had it all.

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Popular Sky Sports on-course commentator Wayne ‘Radar’ Riley 

I don’t wish to sound like Uncle Albert, but back in my day we didn’t have what the kids have at the touch of a button today.

Social media was just a dream and you still shared the connection to the World Wide Web with your parents phone line; that noise was horrendous wasn’t it? 

Without Golf on Sky TV there were limited ways that the game could attract new golfers. We relied partially on magazines, but benefited mainly from those special few events shown live on the BBC. 

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Aside from the majors (Open Championship & Masters) we were treated twice yearly to a visit at the iconic Wentworth for both the PGA & The World Matchplay (now both shown on Sky)Along side this, the BBC also aired the now retired Benson & Hedges International Open.

So, was that enough air time for the British public to be truly inspired?

No.

Despite the lack of coverage, there was one man in the late 90’s we can thank for the influx of new golfers. With his record breaking victory at Augusta National in ’97 to his impeccable performance for the entire year 2000, Tiger Woods’ single handedly revolutionised the game. For the next 6 years Woods dominated the tour and it started to get a little, well…dull to be honest. 

With 106 worldwide professional wins including 14 majors, (Jack Nicklaus has 116 inc 18 majors) Woods will go down as the best of our generation. However, with the lack of any other player able to contend with Tiger, the game just felt stale. 

Phil Mickleson sick of Tigers achievements!

 

Back in 2002, I began working in the golf industry; one of the best decisions I ever made. I was asked by my superior colleagues who my favourite player was. Imagine their shock when the words Tiger Woods didn’t come out of my mouth *shock horror*. In fact, my idol was Ian Poulter. Before I go on, I’d just like to add that not only did I enjoy watching his game before anyone really knew who he was, but I later went on to invest considerably in the most outrageous trouser prints and blonde highlights; just to match his style. 

I’m sure it’s pretty clear how inspired I was by this man, but without Sky Sports coverage of events and a weekly TV newsletter, no one else would know who he was? The BBC was not looking at new talent, their only focus was on the old guard (Faldo, Woosie and Seve to name a few) which were sadly fading away after the late 90’s. 

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I met Poulter later that year at Wentworth, following his friend Justin Rose at the World Matchplay. We chatted around a very busy 1st tee, no one else knew who this man was, not one person.  

Since Sky Sports acquired the rights to The Open in 2016 (a decision strongly influenced  by the R&A) it was now clear that the coverage was completely outclassing its rival broadcaster. Golf wasn’t in any way a priority for the BBC, and once the R&A had made their intentions clear to move to a digital service; they pulled out the running.  

Peter Alice will forever be the voice of golf to many viewers. Sadly for Alice, due to the BBC’s lack of investment, we no longer have a live BBC golf event on the European Tour schedule. The only free golf available to non Sky customers are highlight shows of both The Masters & The Open Championship. So to put it plainly, there is no free live golf coverage to date.

Who’s to blame and does it matter? 

The argument will always stand with Golf, as it does with Football (blamed for ever reducing gate numbers); Sky have potentially damaged the game by taking the audience off the terraces, and putting them in front of the TV. 

On the flip side, it’s fair to say that Sky in fact do care about the game. They are bringing golf to the masses, and allowing for the game to inspire a much broader audience. 


When it comes to the development and future of the game, do we still rely on TV companies to promote golf?

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter & YouTube are almost always available at arms reach, and the development of social media has made me question the need for Sky.

If you’re an avid golf fan and Sky Sports customer, you’ll likely tune into the majors at least once each year. The least popular major has proven to be the US PGA Championship, and despite early Sky marketing in 2017 suggesting all 4 majors were to be shown; this didn’t happen. 

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Ewen Murray has been the voice of Sky Golf for over 25 years

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Just weeks before, golfers were left in limbo as to where they would find coverage. 

The USGA decided that no cable or digital company would be airing the event, and that it would only be available to Freeview and social media. At first, I was excited.

I knew I was paying to see all 4 majors, but this felt like a shift in the times. Maybe the game was going to head in a new direction? 

or so I thought…

Without any decent ‘widespread’ online or social marketing from the USGA, the BBC announced it will be broadcasting coverage from Quail Hollow.

Could the top dogs at the BBC really be excited by the new generation of professional golfers and inspired by Sky’s successful coverage at the BMW PGA & Open Championship?

Sadly, all was not as it seemed.

You can imagine my disappointment when I tuned in on the Thursday evening to discover that the coverage was not live. Not on a main channel anyway.

The BBCs solemn attempt was a red button service (in terrible definition) the odd hour in the early morning on BBC2 and then the final hours finishing on the radio.

After watching this event for the past 20 years I was a really disappointed to see such a high class event treated so badly. The aim was for the event to be the most watched major of all time. I’m sure the figures were decent; but it was far from inspiring.

Social media is the ideal platform to promote the game for free and although the USGA’s marketing and choice of British broadcaster was poor, the idea is good. 

Fingers crossed that the British Masters will be a strong success, and the game will continue to grow through more events like this one.

Let me know what you think. Do we need Sky and the BBC to help the promotion of golf in the UK, or is social media enough for a successful future?

Like, Comment and Share! 

www.golfgeardirect.co.uk

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