10 things you don’t know about Golf on TV
(1) Only half the shots you see are actually live. There’s just no way around it, especially at the beginning of a telecast. Half of the players in contention could be hitting at the same time. Often, announcers will say, “A little while ago … ” But we don’t always indicate when a shot is on tape, not to fool viewers but because it gets cumbersome to do so every time.
Taped shots are tricky for on-course announcers like Judy Rankin, because their audio is live. Booth announcers can describe what’s on their monitors, but Judy has to describe the situation from memory, wait for the sound of impact in her headphones, then continue as if it were happening live.
(2) We know the hole truth. Some hole locations work better for television, especially at a course with huge greens, like Champions Golf Club in Houston, where they played the Tour Championship. We like to know in advance where the holes will be–it affects where we place the cameras–but we do not dictate the location. Of a green’s four potential hole locations for the week, one might be really bad for television. So we may suggest that the tour people use that location on Thursday and a different one for weekend rounds. If they listen, great. If not, we find a way to make it work.
(3) We fiddle with the leader board. Normally, we list players with the same score based on the number of holes played. But a big name like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson always goes directly to the front of the line, even if he’s played the fewest holes. This practice, known as a priority leader board, ensures that the marquee players are more prominent.
(4) Announcers don’t move ratings. That’s true for almost every sport, which is why it doesn’t make sense to enter a bidding war for an announcer or to pay him more than the market rate. The network simply won’t receive the return on its investment. And the good announcers aren’t going to jump ship anyway. When Gary McCord’s contract with CBS was about to expire a few years ago, I approached him. He said, “I’m flattered, but CBS has been hugely loyal to me.” That said, Johnny Miller could probably initiate a bidding war if he decided to leave NBC. Love him or hate him, people tune in to hear what he has to say.
(5) ABC had a chance to hire David Feherty but let him go to CBS. I produced David’s first announcing gig, the off-season Johnnie Walker World Championship in Jamaica, for the USA Network. He was green and very nervous, but his wit was there.
David reported that Loren Roberts hit a shot that struck a coconut, keeping the ball out of the water. David found the coconut, held it up and said, “Here I am. I’m nursing Loren Roberts’ bruised nut!” Afterward, I wanted to hire him for ABC, but the bosses said, “No, we don’t have any room for him.”
(6) You’ll learn much more if you watch on a weekday. Because the tournament’s storyline has yet to develop, Thursday and Friday telecasts can be full of information. Announcers tell more substantive stories, and we run longer interviews and in-depth features. Even if you’re not as fanatical as SignBoy, it’s the perfect opportunity to pick up tidbits about players.
(7) We’re entertainers, not journalists. Magazines like Golf Digest sometimes accuse us of not being journalists. That’s unfair, because we know we’re not journalists, and we don’t pretend to be. We’re entertainers, and our primary job is to present the story of what’s happening in the tournament.
Other times we’re criticized for the air time we give to the PGA Tour and its sponsors. The truth is, the last thing we want is the telecast to be a three-hour infomercial. At the same, time we are acutely aware that we could not afford to broadcast the events without sponsors. As rights-holding partners of the PGA Tour, networks have to fill contractual obligations like public-service announcements for the tour and interviews with the sponsors’ CEOs by the 18th green.
(8) Sudden death is the (money) pits. Playoffs may be exciting for viewers, but they’re real downers for the networks, which lose money when telecasts run past the scheduled sign-off time. After 6 p.m., those extra commercials don’t generate any revenue, while the preempted news division gives up its ad dollars. So it’s not just the playoff loser who feels the pain of defeat.
(9) Want to get on TV? That’s easy. If every reality show has turned you down, don’t think streaking onto the 18th fairway is going to make you a star. We don’t show anybody who enters the field of play, regardless of how he or she is (un)dressed. But we are on the lookout for eye-catching subjects in the gallery–cute babies, people with Jesper Parnevik masks–as long as they’re in good taste. If you don’t have a baby and can’t borrow one for the day, another option is to try to be in the background when we show players’ significant others, like Elin Nordegren and Amy Mickelson. Just understand that you could be mistaken for a stalker.
(10) We miss plenty of shots, but none of Tiger’s. We have fewer than 25 cameras for a regular tour event and our focus is on the leaders, so there are blind spots in the coverage. We can’t show every great shot, especially if it took place before we came on the air.
If Tiger Woods is playing before we go on the air Thursday or Friday, though, we will go out early and tape every one of his shots so we can start the telecast with highlights or an update of how he’s doing. On the weekend, he’s the one guy we have to cover, even if he’s not on the leader board. We wouldn’t do that for any other player, and Tiger will continue to receive this kind of VIP treatment until the ratings tell us otherwise.
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