OPINION

Linking live golf on BBC to 'growing the game' is ludicrous

Peter Allis

A wise man once said that the only thing more dangerous than a fool is a fool who thinks he’s always right.

I was reminded of that this morning when confronted by a stream of jubilant but ultimately point-missing posts about the PGA of America’s likely decision to give live TV rights for this year’s PGA Championship to the BBC.

It’s a surprise move as the decision bucks the trend of live golf abandoning free-to-air broadcasters in favour of subscription networks and their vast cash reserves.

In one respect, it’s a good move. Whilst both the BBC and Sky Sports have the same theoretical reach, the BBC is seen by more people on account of being free to watch.

However, the suggestion – put forward by many people already this morning – that putting the PGA on the BBC will positively affect golf participation rates in the UK is, frankly, ludicrous. It’s a lazy, redundant argument, which is ignorant to the fact (fact) that live golf – and lots of it – was broadcast on the BBC at a time when golf participation slowed. 

Read more - R&A chief has dig at BBC golf coverage

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That’s not to say that the BBC coverage negatively affected participation. That would be equally laughable. It was bad. Very, very bad. But not that bad.

Instead, the main conclusion we should draw is that live televised golf has zero impact on participation, whether positively or negatively. Just because more eyes see something doesn’t mean that there is a sudden latent demand to practice what they see. ‘You can lead a horse to water’ and such.

So, no, I don’t suddenly expected to see new players descend en masse on golf courses after next month’s PGA. What I hope to see is a vastly improved, slicker BBC production.

As Martin Slumbers (below), the chief executive of the R&A, rightly declared at Royal Birkdale this morning, the Beeb’s televised golf coverage had become ‘tired and outdated’.   

What I would like to see is a more diverse broadcast: informed analysis, better pundits, better visuals, a faster tempo. What I don’t want is to hear Peter Alliss ramble on about how wonderful the lunch is at some Surrey club who have emailed in to say hello or, worse, anything that even slightly resembles a rubber duck.

Martin Slumbers

The BBC has an abundance of fantastic young voices. Eilidh Barbour has already been confirmed as it’s new anchor for golf, succeeding the fantastic Hazel Irvine. That’s a great start. A more pronounced role for the likes of Andrew Cotter, Dan Walker, Ore Oduba would be better still.

I accept that my expectations have been heightened. That, though, is purely down to how fantastic a job Sky Sports has done since it entered the golf market. It has elevated the coverage of the sport to heights that have frankly embarrassed the BBC and exposed its shortcomings.

The challenge it now faces is to attempt to emulate what Sky has done. At the very least, it needs to show that it cares about live sport. If it does, it will change to reflect the demands of the modern consumer.

If it doesn’t, it will arrogantly stick to its ‘tried and tested’ format. That, in my opinion, would be to the detriment of the PGA Championship.

But please… don’t give me any “this is good for the game” rubbish. Like Martin Slumbers, I just don’t buy it. 

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