If there is one thing that gets Aussie Golfer readers angry, it is the demise of golf on free-to-air TV.
The slow demise of golf on free-to-air Australian TV has certainly brought with it plenty of emotions, expletives and more comments on this blog than nearly all other topics. It has been dying a slow death for just over a decade and it is probably no coincidence that it has followed the same trajectory as the number of golf tournaments featuring Greg Norman.
During any hot weekend afternoon of the late 1980′s, you could be sure that a flick through the channels would yield not just the cricket or the V8′s but a golf tournament; usually featuring Greg Norman in something like the West End Open or The Palm Meadows Cup.
Since the glory days of The Great White Shark, most free-to-air golf has been restricted to the majors and the WGC events, with momentary jolts from the golf defibrillator courtesy of Channel 9, IMG and the appearance of Tiger Woods.
Until just a few years ago, one would not have imagined golf disappearing from free-to-air television, but that is exactly what happened for last year’s British Open, which saw the prestigious event broadcast exclusively on FoxSports.
The writing was on the wall when OneHD announced (or perhaps quietly mumbled) that it was no longer going to be a 24-7 sports channel. The network was a great supporter and broadcaster of Australian golf, who produced The Pro Shop golf show and had exclusive rights to the US Masters and WGC events. The golf wasn’t as frequent as the weekly US PGA and European Tour events shown on FoxSports, but at least the big events were on free-to-air.
It soon became obvious that golf was no longer on the list of priorities for OneHD when they broadcast NASCAR instead of the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship
in March this year. The first four days of the event were broadcast live and uninterrupted. But the final, most important day of golf was demoted in favour of the left-hand turners. OneHD and Network Ten they were contractually obliged to broadcast NASCAR live, which failed to ameliorate angry golf fans. It was like showing a full year of footy, without showing the Grand Final.
The rumours that Ten Network were to drop golf altogether were all but confirmed when they announced they would not be broadcasting this year’s Australian Open
, well before the field is even announced. This is not just a problem for golf fans, but tournament organisers will have a much tougher job to entice sponsors for our national tournament.
After the most recent US Open was only shown on FoxSports, don’t expect any change ahead of next week’s Open Championship from Royal Lytham. Once again, FoxSports will have exclusive coverage of the tournament that features no less than 13 Australians in the field.
The fact is, golf doesn’t rate on TV.
If it did, free-to-air television networks would be stumbling over each other to show more golf, rather than giving it away to pay-TV. There is simply not enough Australian golf fans watching golf on TV, and there is no way TV networks will air golf just to please a few viewers.
Of course, if you have FoxSports you’re laughing and probably couldn’t care less. The coverage is ultimately much better with less advertisements, longer broadcast times and repeat viewings of every round. But should anyone care at all, and will it have any effect on your weekend round of golf?
Obviously, golf will have less direct exposure into Australian households which will probably have a detrimental effect on golf participation. If less people are playing golf, ultimately golf will cost more to play and there will be less golf clubs. The effect may not be fully seen for another generation or so but if the current state of many Australian golf clubs is anything to go by, perhaps it has already started.