The Round Table: the Block party is over; who’s watching anyway?

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.

Michael Block enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame following a hole-in-one during the final round of the PGA Championship and a T15 finish. During one media appearance, the club pro from California was asked what he would shoot if he had Rory McIlroy’s length. “I think I’d be one of the best players in the world. Hands down. … My iron game, wedge game, around the greens and my putting is world class.” His world class short game didn’t fare so well during a sponsor’s exemption the following week at the Charles Schwab Challenge where he shot 81-74 to finish dead last and miss the cut. Turns out that Block has also received an invitation to play in the RBC Canadian Open. Good move on Golf Canada’s part or not?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Sure.  The guy may be short on humility and logic, but the PGA Championship performance was one of the great Cinderella stories of all time.  Even if he does nothing for the rest of the year (or the rest of time), it’s great that Canadian golf fans will get a chance to see him at Oakdale.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Good on Michael, he should enjoy and soak up every second of it. We’ll get to re-celebrate his accomplishment at next years PGA Championship. It was a great story, and he’s a fine player. I like the idea of having him at the RBC Canadian Open too. Take it for what it is – a great golf story, and he’s not a bad human either. I’ll be cheering him on.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The Canadian Open should do anything and everything to attract attention. Michael Block had his 15 minutes of fame for a reason. First, the ‘stars’ were aligned. Tour golf is at a level only a very limited few ever ascend to. Yes, he is a good player. Yes, he had a wonderful week but if he was in that league, he would be in that league. Donald Trump had a young unsuccessful tour player working at one of his clubs. One day, they played together. Trump was so impressed he sponsored the young fellow and got him a sponsors’ exemption into one of the tour events Trump held influence with because as Trump put it “I have an eye for this kind of talent”. The young guy did very well and then we never had of him again. Undoubtedly, he still works for Trump and records plenty of scores in the low to mid-60s, but tour golf is reserved for those who can play at that level. I played with TJ Rule at Westmount today. He played a magnificent round of golf shooting -3, 70. It was glorious to watch but I doubt he is quitting his day job.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): Absolutely.  It’s close enough that he’ll still be on the back end of the 15 minutes of fame, and it’ll draw some attention to the event.  Obviously, he was exhausted at Colonial and for good reason, but hopefully he’s rejuvenated for the RBC Canadian Open and has a good showing.  Everyone will be hoping for that.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag):  They call it 15 minutes of fame for a reason and most attempts to prolong it or milk it for more than it’s worth usually come back to bite someone in the ass. In this case, Block got a little carried away in his exuberance but that’s ok. He’s a nice story and will become part of the PGA Championship legend. However, as much as tournament organizers want to use trending stories to sell tickets and get media exposure, I don’t know anyone that is likely to say they’re going to the RBC Canadian Open to see Michael Block. I’m sure he’ll be well received by fans at Oakdale but he’s pretty much past his best before date. A throwaway invitation in my opinion.

Speaking of the RBC Canadian Open, the latest news has commitments from 10 of the top 50 players in the world, despite the tournament’s very difficult spot on the PGA Tour schedule, sandwiched between elevated designated big money events and majors. Is that enough to keep the Open in its current place or should organizers be asking for a better date?

Deeks: I don’t think the Canadian Open has ever STOPPED asking for better dates from the Tour, since about 1982, and has never received more than a pat on the head and assurances that “we’re looking at it”, which of course, they never do.  I’m frankly shocked that the Canadian Open was not given “designated” status, considering the fact that RBC may be its biggest corporate sponsor with two events, was the saviour of the Heritage Classic, and maintains a very impressive roster of players on Team RBC.  But RBC is Canadian and if there’s one thing Americans know, Canadians can be pushed around endlessly, and we’ll just say thanks, sorry to bother you.  Once RBC calls it a day with the Canadian Open, I wonder if we shouldn’t just let the whole thing go.

Loughry: Ten of the top 50 is pretty good considering the cards they’ve been dealt. The other 40 not showing just have other priorities. Organizers should be getting a better date and shouldn’t really have to ask for it. Look at the history and momentum they’ve built around the event, only to be dealt a challenging date on the schedule. Golf Canada and RBC, long standing and good/solid partners with the Tour, will put on a good show regardless, but deserve better IMO.

Schurman: If the Canadian Open fails to become one of the big-money events it won’t survive. It will become part of the 2nd tier events or perhaps even a Korn Ferry event.

Rule: It’s a no brainer that they need another date sooner than later, as less and less top players will be attending each year it stays in its current spot in the schedule.  Is Rory only playing because he’s the two-time defending champ?  Let’s hope they get it moved soon.  Otherwise, RBC may be looking to spend their money elsewhere, which would be devastating to the event.

Mumford: If an elevated designated big money event means limited field and no cut, then it’s hard to imagine Golf Canada accepting that. This is a national championship, with lots of home-grown talent and it needs a full field and a cut. Next season’s schedule is rumoured to include several strings of full field summer events not encumbered by majors or designated events. The RBC Canadian Open needs to be in one of those, preferably right before the playoffs. That still won’t guarantee any more Top 50 players but at least it will have a fighting chance to secure some players looking to land a coveted Top 50 position for the following season.

Viewer numbers for golf on TV are not very encouraging outside the majors and a few select PGA Tour events. LPGA. Korn Ferry and Champions Tour numbers are abysmal and LIV Golf viewership numbers are so bad they don’t even report them anymore. Live attendance is even worse at many locations. Sponsorship money has grown exponentially for the PGA Tour but little of it is filtering down to the other Tours. Is there a day of reckoning coming for the other Tours? 

Deeks: I’m afraid there may be some truth in that supposition.  I’m certainly not watching as much PGA Tour as I used to and WILL not watch a LIV event.  The Senior Tour is a cure for insomnia, and I’m just not interested in up-and-comers who may never arrive.  I do watch LPGA coverage, but really only to see how Brooke’s doing (which isn’t too well lately).  I’m shocked that LPGA events, even majors, seem to attract about a dozen spectators on-site, and my guess is most of those are friends and family members.  I’m not sure of how much of the LPGA TV coverage is actually paid for by the sponsors; but if TV viewership is similar to spectatorship, I can’t see a lot of sponsors hanging on for many more years.

Loughry: I think this is more a reflection of the start of summer (people want to get out), and the state of the economy. Habits are changing, some are forced; I will park time for the Majors knowing they have all the best players and storylines too. Watching a regular event has lost some luster with me. If I’m home (it’s raining) I’ll tune in, but I’m not specifically setting aside time to watch it. I think lots of people share that perspective.

Schurman: The day of reckoning is well on its way. Jay Monahan has been the most overpaid CEO in history based on the damage he has caused his employers. He accepted the job at the highest pinnacle of success for the PGA TOUR and has gradually allowed it to slide toward oblivion. The big question is “How fast is the process moving”. Can it be corrected or has the damage been done?  Dwindling crowds started a few years ago at certain events and escalated. The ‘powers that be’ seem to believe all is well when they see the attendance of five or six tournaments, but I’ve seen events where other than the player’s family nobody is watching hole after hole. The sponsors are hanging in for three reasons: TV exposure (Note – it costs less to sponsor a PGA Tour event than to pay for an equal amount of network time); the opportunity for their employees and customers to play with the best players in the Pro-Am; and the goodwill created by the money given to charity. The actual tournament is of interest to very few people.

Rule: There’s just so much more going on these days in everyone’s lives, it’s hard for me personally to dedicate as much of my time to sitting in front of a tv on a weekend afternoon.  Does that mean it’s hurting the sport or the product?  I’m not so sure.  There is still lots of exposure through social media, that’s how sponsors are getting eyes on things these days.  So, I don’t think it’s doomsday for the sport, the game is popular as ever.

Mumford: Newspapers use to have reporters and entire pages dedicated to horse-racing and bowling. Recreational bowling is still very popular but when’s the last time you watched the Pro Bowling Tour? Recreational golf too is very healthy but the pro game and what’s seen on TV is immensely over-exposed with Thursday to Sunday 72-hole coverage of several pro tours, celebrity tours, college golf, amateur golf, made-for-TV matches and coming soon to a screen near you, Tiger Woods’ indoor Monday Night League. Too much product, not enough time but that seems to be the way everything works in the digital age – present an unlimited number of choices and let the subscriber decide. It may spell the end for some golf product as sponsors depart but clicks and likes and shares now rule the world. In another ten years, maybe The PGA Tour in Sixty will be the way we watch golf.

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

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