Golf Rants, Vol. 2: The Boob Tube

And I’m not talking about the LPGA Tour here, either!

Thrash TalkLast week I told you how I dread the coming winter. One reason I neglected to mention was that it means I’ll be forced to quell my golf jones more frequently with TV. Well, the matter was so important I figured it needed its own column.

I suppose you could say we’re lucky to have so much golf on TV today. When I started playing golf seriously in the late 1980s, there was quite a bit of golf on TV, but nowhere near what we have today. Golf Channel gives us something golf-related 24/7, and between all the pro tours and specialty events, there is some kind of event on just about every weekend of the year.

I think it was better when there was less.

Issue One: Programming
I am wondering if the guys and gals who produce golf shows understand that what we actually like to do is watch people hit golf shots. Yeah, it’s nice to know that Cialis works for up to 48 hours, and I’m glad they’ve warned me about the danger of erections lasting more than four hours (how did I get through my teens?), but can we at least see some golf now and then? They seem fixated on showing us the leaders, which is fine, but it’s probably better to see the guy in eighth place actually hitting a shot than, say, Tiger eating a power bar.

Erik J. Barzeski did a great job cataloging the absurdity of what actually gets shown on a telecast, but even without a stop watch most of us know we’re getting gypped. And another thing about those commercials: can they maybe come up with a few variations? And what’s with the bathtubs outdoors? I understand economics and I know they’ve gotta sell stuff to pay the bills, but this commercial rerun flail amounts to slapping a paying customer in the face over and over with a damp shoelace. Thank goodness for DVRs.

Issue Two: Talking Heads
I’m not going to name names, but to bastardize a slogan, These Guys Are Awful. OK, some of them aren’t so bad, but on the whole, listening to the average golf TV announcer is about as much fun as helping my wife pick out fabric for the new couch. My favorite are the swing analyses. Even with the ultra slow-mo cameras, I am amazed at what these yahoos think they can see in a golf swing. Of course, they just watched the shot, so they know if the face was open or closed by the result. So, they just use whatever swing jargon Tiger Woods is currently using or analyze according to whatever is the current Golf Digest swing theory du jour. And please, once in a while, when a player hits a bad shot, can you say that he mis-hit it, and not that he “eased up” on it or misjudged the wind or whatever else the excuse is?

One final thing – the language on putts and shot shapes drives me crazy. Why does it break “from left to right,” and not just “to the right?” We don’t turn our cars from left to right, or take the gas tank from empty to full, do we?

Issue Three: Over-Golfed
There was a time when I didn’t think this was possible. I would stay up until two in the morning watching 13-year-olds in the Drive, Chip, & Putt. I could watch a Jim McLean lesson without the mute button. I would prefer a Jay Randolph narrated rerun of the 1989 USF&G Classic over an NFL game. But you know, the glass is not half full, it’s over full, and it’s spilling all over the place. There’s too much golf on TV.

I used to disagree with Dan Jenkins’ characterization of the Champions Tour as boring, but, well, he was right. And the sad thing is that Champions Tour events aren’t even close to the most insufferable golf on TV today. I heard a guy describe one of his greatest golf shots as a “better than sex” 2-iron. Well, I agree golf can be exciting, but to use the sex metaphor, the current flood of TV golf is, as another friend said once, like having sex while wearing two condoms. Fun, but not quite like the real thing.

People talk about things like golf equipment being a serious threat to the game. For me, the dilutional devaluation of golf as a spectator sport could be far more damaging to our game in the long run. I don’t care whether you depend on golf for a living or chop it around once a month, if the people running the tours ruin it for fans, we are all in trouble.

Alright, I’m done for a while. Kindly excuse me while I go watch the exciting baseball playoffs. But first I will have to turn my TV from off to on.

10 thoughts on “Golf Rants, Vol. 2: The Boob Tube”

  1. DVRs have done more for my enjoyment of golf than hybrids and cute cart girls.

    One of the pet peeves I’ve got is that announcers seem to love to use the word “golf.” I read a funny article a few years back that parodied an announcer. It went something like this: “What a golf shot! The golfer swung his golf club down onto the back of the golf ball, sending it flying straight towards the golf green, where it landed two inches from the golf hole!” I notice this over-use of the world “golf” less these days than I have in the past, but it’s still there.

    I can’t stand Gary Koch. You could do a whole column on golf announcers. “Will it stay? Will it stay? Will it STAY?!?!

    I’d better stop before I get on a rant of my own.

  2. Great topic and beautifully written too. I wonder if anyone from the major networks visits the sandtrap.

    Just cannot stand the announcers adding one mystery after another into the story.

  3. Because it’s almost always on in some form, I find myself watching less and less golf on TV now for any particular purpose. If I have the urge, I can find some golf on TV to watch for 30-40 minutes at a time. Also, the quips, catch phrases, and incessant Tiger coverage has grown tired.

    So what would inspire me to actually plan to watch more than bits or pieces of a golf tournament? I think most people who watch golf (maybe all) are golfers themselves, and so when I watch I’m constantly thinking about how I would try to hit a particular shot. So what I’d really like to hear is the same kind of stuff I would be thinking about if I were walking up to the ball — what’s the yardage, what’s the lie, what’s the wind doing, a real good what’s the “playing like” yardage, what are the 2 or 3 best shot options, where is my “good miss” and what do I need to avoid at all costs? You usually can’t get that from the tower, and the on course reporters only follow a handful of groups, at most. So I would vote for more on course reporters giving me “just the facts.”

    What I’d also really like to know is how far the player is trying to hit a particular club compared to his average distance with that club. With all the shot link data, it would be interesting to see how often a pro is trying to max out a club (or more) and how often they gear down, and also the actual range of distances a pro can cover with a single club. Maybe you could even flash a graphic on the screen showing average carry distances per club (kind of like you see in the “What’s in My Bag” articles in the back of Golf Digest). I’d learn more from that than hearing over and over again “that’s a big 6 iron.” I already know the pros hits the ball farther than me, so that sort of obvious comment doesn’t really tell me anything.

    This of course would also mean spending more time per shot with each player, because you’d need to be able to have time to provide all this information before the ball was in the air, but I’m sure you could find the time by devoting less of your coverage to players lining up putts from three angles and also the cut aways to talking heads in a tower talking about things other than the golf tournament every 10 minutes.

    Next, since we’re all always working on someting, it would be interesting to know exactly what a pro is working on at a particular point in time, and particularly whether the pro is able to carry that from the practice range to the course. Again, this would mean that golf commentators would actually need to work the range and do a little investigative reporting, which would probably require more people on the ground.

    Lastly, while it would be hard to do this during a broadcast, I have to say that I have really enjoyed the post-round coverage when Frank Nobilo goes back out on the course to some spots where players have hit pivotal shots, tries to recreate the situation, and hit the shot a couple of different ways himself. It’s not just the Johnny Miller type of second guessing, because Nobilo actually goes out there and tries to do it, and the camera gets right into what the palyer was seeing at the time.

  4. Great article as it encapsulates the frustrations of the golf obssessed viewer (me) perfectly.

    I am in Australia so the only golf we get is the feeds from the US stations on our local pay TV sports channels. A fascinating thing for us taht you may not see is when you go to the multitude of commercial breaks or station promos we get an obscure picture of a tree branch, a flower or the water hazard in some soft focus artistic manner, coupled with an elevator music type sound track.

    If it is a long break, we get an almost apologetic voice over reading the leader board (from start to finish) and pointing out the notables in the field – none of who are really that notable.

    When the golf is on – we get LOTS of Tiger, some of Phil and then bits of everyone else. Probably the same footage you get.

    We don’t have the Golf Channel – we get around 2 hours of the telecast (at 6am) which is the last 6-8 holes each day, then we may get the LPGA replay and rarely the Nationwide replay. As much as you guys seem to be over the Golf Channel – we would welcome some of the programming, lessons and different tour event summaries.

    Too much golf isnt ever enough for those deprived….

  5. Good post!

    I’m biased to our local coverage of Australian events, which seems to include more golf shots! I mean, that’s what I want to see, the wonderful golf swings of the pros.

    We get the US coverage of the three American majors, and I find it painful to watch – I don’t find it useful to see the 2-3 minutes every green of Tiger reading his putt and his pre-shot routine every time. What is entertaining in watching anyone crouching in three locations trying to read a green? Surely there is someone, somewhere, hitting a golf shot?? Come back when the putt is about to be struck… and please don’t show me someone replacing his ball and tapping in from a foot, unless he misses it, or it’s for eagle … !!!

    I don’t want to see practice swings either. Even _my_ swing looks good when there’s no ball there!!

    And, I’m definitely against whoever it is on commentary that says “wow, I tell you, Bobby-Jim, what a shot!” after every good shot as if that is a worthy narrative on the game. The British Open commentators have a brilliantly dry and elegant way of communicating, with understatement.

    Sadly, the Australian tour has less and less tournaments these days. I don’t know if you get telecasts of our tournaments in December/January?

    Sorry, but that’s my rant. And don’t get me started on the fact that at the Masters, I saw only about two shots by Stuart Appleby on Sunday despite the fact he was playing in the last group, and in it until the 12th hole, and I got to see every single shot and every pre-shot and every green-read of Tiger… (I mean, I got up at 5am local time for the live coverage, and that’s what we get!)


  6. DFife:

    “Dilutional devaluation” means that if you flood the market with something, it becomes less valuable. Too much golf on TV means that it’s less likely to get good ratings, etc. Like when a hot toy comes out at Christmas, and it costs much more than in February, when the manufacturers flood the stores with it.

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