Sunday, October 13, 2013

Golf Channel needs a new approach in coverage of First Tee Open

Champions Tour golf is a hard sell at the best of times. Save for the presence of some of the more recognizable big names of the past—or recent past—from the PGA Tour, TV coverage of the 50+ tour is drawing only hardcore golf fans – and even then, probably only the 50+ fans, golfers who are of an age with the players, and remember their glory days.
When it comes to the Champion Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, the venue itself is a draw for viewers, especially with the schedule change to a late-September time slot. While mid-summer often sees the Monterey Peninsula blanketed in fog, early autumn is a time of sparkling blue skies and mild to surprisingly warm temperatures. Beauty shots of glassy waves breaking on Carmel Beach and sea otters frolicking in the kelp, interspersed between shots of towering drives down Pebble’s verdant fairways, lend a Nature Channel look to the coverage, reminiscent of the coverage of the AT&T in good-weather years.
Why then, does Golf Channel burden its coverage of the Nature Valley First Tee Open with an endless succession of interview spots consisting of on-course commentator Billy Ray Brown asking successive pairs of junior and pro players the same questions: (To the junior player) “What does the First Tee mean to you?” or “What is your favorite Core Value?” and (to the pro) “What impresses you most about this young person?”, or Dave Marr Jr. soliciting heart-felt personal life stories from the juniors.
Another cliché button that is being leaned on by the commentators, both in the trailer and out on the course, is “When I was 15, I sure wasn’t playing golf at Pebble Beach on national TV!” or words to that effect. Granted, many of these kids are very accomplished—there was more than one 4.0+ GPA among this year’s group of players, and many of them are talented in other fields beyond golf—and they don’t need to be artificially elevated by the Golf Channel announcers by the use of this device.
Golf fans tune in to the broadcast coverage of a golf tournament to see golf being played. In much the same way that dedicated runners will watch an elite marathon race on TV, because their own experiences give them an appreciation for what the world-class athletes are achieving, golfers watch the pros—even the 50+ pros—to see the best in the world playing the game at a high level. While the interview spots are a nice interval-filler, in measured doses, and appropriate given the unique nature of this event, they are over-played and interfere with the action that viewers tune in to see – golf shots.
Don’t get me wrong, the First Tee is a great program, and the format—teams of talented junior players partnered with experienced senior golfers—is a great hook for this tournament, but I think that Golf Channel is over-egging the pudding, and turning off their core viewers, by continually cutting to the interview spots instead of concentrating on the great golf being played by both the pros and the juniors. I imagine that legions of viewers (if the viewership numbers even rate the use of the term “legion”) are clicking off after about the third interview, which is a shame, because the tournament deserves viewers.
My suggestions: 1) Trim the interviews by half, 2) Vet the kids who are to be interviewed, beforehand. Most of these kids are articulate and well-spoken, but not all of them are, so find out which kids can carry an on-camera interview and which ones can’t – and, finally – find Dave Marr Jr something else to do. His over-earnest on-camera style is grating at the best of times, but he lapses into a sycophantic stupor at this event that is painful to watch. He’s not the on-camera personality his late father was, and he never will be.

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