Is golf a second class sport?

It seems as though nothing changes. When we first started watching the PGA Tour on TV, coverage started on the 15th hole. Not that anything much happened until then. Further, as strange as it might sound, none of the corporate sponsors were marketing golf products. They sold cars, petroleum and laundry soap. Golf was extremely popular and a lot of business oriented games were played. Golfers earned a lot of money and spent a lot on all kinds of expensive ‘toys’ and activities. Golfers employed people generating a lot of revenue but still only four holes of coverage.

One of the most watched golf events on TV is the Masters. For the longest time, viewing the front nine of the Masters was forbidden. The coverage was basically all of the back nine but none of the front. It’s only in the last few years that we’ve been able to follow the leaders from the first tee. Still, TV broadcasting doesn’t start until 3:00pm daily except Sunday when we are generously granted a 2:00pm start. With play beginning at 8:00 in the morning a lot of the tournament is over.  Imagine tuning into the Super Bowl to find out the coverage began following the Half Time Show. The reason given is that it would detract from ticket sales. Are you kidding? If everyone who wanted a ticket to the Masters stood in line, the line would extend from Augusta to Seattle and back twice!

Recently, I’ve been trying to watch the PGA Tour events on Sunday afternoons. I begin with coverage on the Golf Channel.  I check the major network viewing time and set the timer for the correct time. I’m relaxed, with my laptop so I can multi-task, pop the cork on a soft drink and ease in.  At the top of the hour, expecting the channel to ‘flip over’ and golf to appear; it ‘flips’ and college basketball appears. I check the remaining time in the game and learn they only have 3 minutes. I can live through that. But then I learn what every person entertaining a group during an NFL game finds out; the two minute warning doesn’t mean there’s two minutes of TV time left. The two minute warning means it’s time to peel the potatoes and put the roast in; you’ve got plenty of time before dinner is served. The final two minutes consumes at least 30 minutes of real time.

One thing I don’t understand is why the same ritual is followed even when the score is a 30 point difference. What do they discuss when they call a 30 second time-out with 24 seconds left on the clock and they are losing 75 to 40?

However, TV producers are smart! They give you a quick glimpse of the leader board, a snap shot of the leader and if Tiger’s playing you get to see a replay of his front nine highlights plus all of his previous victories at home and abroad. Then back to the basketball game for 6 different time-outs, guys shooting the ball after the whistle making the ref’s chase it down like a bunch of pooches and the endless commentary about how great the athletic program is at the respective team’s university.

If this was an unusual occurrence, fine but it isn’t; it’s the same every week. Doesn’t any-one get it? The basketball game should start half an hour earlier. I would suggest starting the golf tournament half an hour later but they are governed by the amount of daylight available and basketball is played indoors.

Another area of disappointment for me comes when I read the golf results in the newspaper. For regular PGA Tour events you might get the top 10 scores for the first three rounds and the top 20 at the conclusion. Major championships actually include a story. And, what about the LPGA, the Champions Tour, the European Tour and the Web.Com Tour? Canada is extremely well represented at every level. Granted, we can look it up on the internet and/or follow it on golf oriented media but unless you wish to be disappointed don’t look for anything meaningful in the newspaper.

As I said in the beginning “Golfers make a lot of income and spend a lot of it”. The exact market and demographic every single advertiser in any business is looking to contact is walking across the parking lot of every golf course and country club every day. So why are golfers treated like second rate citizens when it comes to viewing golf on TV? There must be a reason; TV executives don’t miss many opportunities to sell air time. Perhaps they already know these facts and intentionally allow the basketball game to infringe in the golf ‘spot’. After all, they would then have the basketball audience and the golf audience for at least 30 minutes both in a time of vulnerability. The basketball fans are watching the final few minutes as they drip away one second at a time and the golfers are sitting wide-eyed as they wait for the emerald fairways to appear.

Hold that thought; we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors.

Michael Schurman
Michael Schurman is a Master Professional and Life Member who first joined the PGA of Canada in 1964 and played the Canadian Tour in 1970. He was inducted into the PGA of Canada Hall of Fame Class of 2020 and is a Charter Member of the PGA of Ontario Hall of Fame. He and his wife Diane live in Durham, Ontario.

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