No fans, no caddies, no pants ….. live golf is back on TV

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

On Sunday, the TaylorMade Driving Relief match signalled a return to live golf on TV after 66 days of endless reruns of past championships. Featuring Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff, each carrying their own clubs, the calibre of play was a bit rusty, but a lot of money was raised for charity, and golf fans finally got a peek behind the curtain at legendary Seminole Golf Club. What was your take on the match and what did you like best and least?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): With three toddler grandchildren under foot, I didn’t get to watch much of the match.  I was very eager to see Seminole, which looked immaculate, but much like most other Florida courses — limited vegetation, lots of sand, and handsome palms.  From what I read on Monday morning, it was exciting that the final skins came down to a shootin’ match.  What I liked best was the fact that the players were allowed to wear SHORTS and did.  They looked very relaxed, perhaps because of it.  If they’d worn trousers, they would’ve looked absolutely ridiculous.  I hope Jay Monahan paid attention.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I watched the match more for the look at Seminole than I did for the players. I did want a more prolonged look at Wolff and his overall game, I wanted to see how far he hit it compared to some of those other monsters, and he didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed the event overall, and hope this leads to more “Shell Wonderful World of Golf” type events going forward, with a connection to charity. What I didn’t like was the commentating, oh boy they were rustier than the players because it was only one group of four to comment on, which meant more space to fill. And geez, did they struggle trying to fill it. So much so, I muted the broadcast shortly into it. I checked in periodically but was just as annoyed.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The whole thing was lacklustre! Following one foursome for 18 holes left the announcers barren for thoughts and comments. Florida courses struggle to be portrayed as exciting on TV. I’d still love to play at Seminole because it appeared by the player’s reactions that the greens are something to behold. I got the impression the money raised although wonderful to see wasn’t a staggering amount. What I did enjoy was watching the difference between Rory’s game and the others. He is definitely better. I also enjoyed having the spotlight on Matt Wolff. He is going to be fun.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): I’ve got to say, I wasn’t blown away by Seminole. Maybe the cameras didn’t effectively capture the course’s majesty, but it just came across as flat and sandy with very few holes that stuck out aesthetically. I understand that it’s the tee-shot positioning, ocean effect, and impossible greens that set the course apart, but it just wasn’t that impressive to look at for 4+ hours. I liked the chatter and the chirping between the players, Wolff’s Fu Manchu, and the fact that the guys had to carry their own bags, laser their own distances, and select putting lines without the aid of their caddies. But with the exception of Fowler, the guys were pretty rusty, and the broadcast was lacking in excitement.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I didn’t get to see all of it but caught enough to see how it all played out.  I quite enjoyed what I saw to be honest.  It was obviously a bit slow given you’re only watching four players, and the play was less than inspiring at times, but the course looked amazing, and there were some great shots played.  I also liked how they brought on guests to keep the telecast moving, although I certainly didn’t need to see the President come on to deliver his mostly political message.  I was impressed they had very good camera coverage, with some flight scope still and many good angles for shots.  And hey, they raised a ton of money for charity, so all in all I thought it was great.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It was fun, and the real stars of the show were Seminole and Donald Ross. Loved the pace of play. It was obvious that it was like a home game for Fowler but very surprised he didn’t tutor his young partner on the terrors of Seminole’s greens. Enjoyed the swing analysis from Koch (who looked like he was wearing his big brother’s suit), the NBC camera work, and the recorded vignettes. The guys could have been much more animated, but I thought the low point was 10 excruciating minutes with the terminally unfunny Bill Murray. But then NBC went even lower letting Trump have a soap box. Inexplicable and inexcusable.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Incredibly happy to finally see some live golf. However, this match proved how difficult it is to do a live telecast of a single match and keep fan interest high. There’s way too much downtime between holes and shots. Azinger, Koch and company can only do so much. This might have been better if it had been distilled down to a one-hour show with way fewer commercials. I loved seeing the players carrying their own clubs and figuring out distances without caddies and was intrigued with Seminole, even though the TV cameras probably didn’t do it justice. Not sure what to make of the odd Bill Murray appearance.  And finally, I was disgusted that NBC allowed the White House Twitter Troll a spot to air his lies and bogus claims. Talk about a turd in the punchbowl.

There were no fans for this event and apparently a lot of sports will be trying to re-start their own schedules in the same manner. Did the lack of fans lessen the experience or detract from the broadcast?

Deeks: While I think galleries add to the experience of pro golf, I would think golf is one sport where fans aren’t really necessary, and their absence doesn’t deter from the competition.   (Heck, it’s like that on the LPGA every week.)  But I can’t imagine how different, and perhaps more boring, that other, arena sports would be without crowds — football, hockey, basketball, soccer, even tennis!   Mind you, baseball can be so sleepy that you don’t even know there’s a crowd in the stadium till someone hits a home run.  But all in all, spectators enhance every game, and every sport.

Loughry: It looked a little odd from some of the aerials, but overall, it didn’t detract from my experience watching on TV. What was painful on the broadcast was the commenting and interviews, even though these were surely planned. That was so painful – I know I’m not the only one that muted the volume. Enough of Bill Murray already. I don’t care if he’s at Costco, and why is he eating a sandwich during the interview…. I’m tired of his antics, and I don’t get his humour (and I love humour). He’ll stay in my beloved memory of Caddyshack forever, but a few more interviews like that, maybe not.

Schurman: We are used to seeing few fans in the Hawaii events. This wasn’t much different. I would have liked to have been able to hear Mark Russell applauding a bit louder but I guess one patron can only do so much.

Kaplan: It was strange to not see fans lining the fairways and congregating behind the greens, but I don’t think that detracted from the experience at all. The real test will be at Colonial when the PGA Tour returns to action without fans, although I truly don’t believe it will be as much an issue for golf as it will be for sports like basketball, football, baseball, and hockey.

Rule: In this case, I don’t think it took anything away because it was just like watching four buddies (albeit four of the best players in the world) playing a casual Sunday round, and that’s what we were expecting.  I have seen some highlights of soccer matches without fans, and that’s a bit strange.  And a full field event on the PGA Tour will likely look and feel a bit different, we’ll have to wait a few weeks to find out!

Quinn: On this side of the pond, so few ‘fans’ are knowledgeable that it was a pleasure not to hear cheering at inappropriate times and not one single moronic ‘Go in the Hole!’

Mumford: I thought a lack of fans would be a detriment, but it turned out to be just fine as far as watching at home. Without fans lining the fairways though, it was sometimes hard to figure out where the players were aiming. Not sure how the players felt about it. I imagine they can get pretty pumped when the crowd responds to a good shot or holed putt.

All four players wore shorts, as players do in many other sports, and to our knowledge, no old ladies fainted. Is it time the PGA Tour changed its policy and allowed players to wear shorts during competition?

Deeks: I answered this question above before I got down here.  But to amplify, yes, it’s time the PGA Tour (and other pro golf bodies) changed its policy and gave the players a CHOICE to wear trousers or shorts. Some may say “well, does that include jean shorts or cargo shorts??”  My answer would be NO, certain rules can easily be applied, and they should just follow the standards of just about every private club, where those kinds of shorts aren’t allowed.  It’s the 21st Century, something the PGA Tour should acknowledge and adapt to. Ditto for CBS and its broadcast crew.

Loughry: I don’t think whether the Pro’s wear shorts or not will determine if I tune in or out. I like the touch of class it shows over other sports. And the pants they can wear these days is like wearing pajamas and doesn’t hinder any performance. They’re so light and stretchy it doesn’t hurt to wear even in 100F degree weather. In all honesty, can anyone see shorts at The Masters? Ummmm, don’t think so! This isn’t a make or break for me; I prefer pants mostly because of the tradition and class it shows. Keep the shorts for practice rounds and exhibitions.

Schurman: Sorry, it doesn’t do it for me. I still can’t wear jeans to play or hit balls on the range. I’m not a ‘jacket and tie’ on the course believer either but I like the traditions of the game: the honour, the dignity, the respect, hats on properly and removed when you enter the Clubhouse. Once we lose these things that set golf apart, we become more raggedy, less committed and more easily dismissive of our decorum. The erosion of standards happens slowly but once they are gone, we can’t go back. If you remove the mint julep, the ladies adorned in fashionable hats and the draping of the garland of roses on the winner of the Kentucky Derby, all you have is a stampede of horses running around in a bunch of mud ridden by some vagabonds wearing shorts with their red, bourgeois “Make America Great” caps worn backwards.

Kaplan: It sure is. I honestly didn’t even notice they were wearing shorts until like the 4th hole, anyway.

Rule: Yes, 100% yes.  I have never understood why they have stuck with the tradition of wearing pants on Tour.  They have allowed mock necks and high-top shoes and other new fashion trends that have pushed the limits of traditional golf attire, it’s time to let the guys wear shorts.

Quinn: Too many of the game’s traditions have been trampled lately. The pants separate the Tour players from the college kids and the weekend yahoos pumping music and pounding beers. Enough already.

Mumford: It’s long past time the PGA Tour allowed players to wear shorts. Golf is a sport, the players are athletes and long pants don’t serve any purpose other than as a nod to tradition. They finally gave in on jackets and ties on the course last century, ditching long pants shouldn’t be a heavy lift.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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