The frustrations that many viewers expressed watching NBC’s coverage of the final round of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions on Sunday might just become the event’s selling point in the future. It all goes back to format.
Social media was buzzing when the LPGA’s season-opening tournament – which began as a celebrity event and still features a celebrity division – moved from Golf Channel to NBC for the last few hours of the final round, but for all the wrong reasons. One of the chief coverage critics of the production was No Laying Up’s Big Randy, who got mixed up in a mini back-and-forth on Twitter with Golf Channel on-course reporter Jerry Foltz.
Those who were frustrated with the coverage brought to the forefront some understandable issues. For instance, over the first 30 minutes of the broadcast, only six full swings and six putts made by LPGA players were shown, which Big Randy noted as a “huge missed opportunity to showcase a wider variety of players, highlight personalities, and inform (potentially new) viewers.”
Instead of yelling at each other with their fingers on keyboards, Foltz accepted an invitation to join No Laying Up’s Trap Draw podcast to have a thoughtful discussion not only about the Tournament of Champions, but golf coverage in general.
Many thanks to @JerryFoltzGC for patiently answering my questions/concerns about Sunday’s @LPGA broadcast on @NBCSports. We go beyond just last Sunday too. Agree or disagree on the finer points, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it. https://t.co/1zDqPXYKl3 pic.twitter.com/F8q2Il0uwi
— Big Randy (@BigRandyNLU) January 27, 2021
“Golf really is the hardest sport to cover on TV and I think it’s important to understand that, because almost all other sports are one ball, one arena,” explained Foltz, who’s been with Golf Channel since 1999. “We have 18 different arenas. We have two or three arenas on each of those 18 different holes and we have multiple balls in the air at the same time so that’s what makes it so complex and such an orchestra and it’s amazing that we’re able to get it on at all, to tell you the truth, and we do it and everybody does it day in and day out like it’s nothing.”
His second, and perhaps more important, point was the event’s format and history as a celebrity event. This year, the final group featured the top three LPGA players on the leaderboard, none other than three top Americans Danielle Kang and the Korda sisters, Jessica and Nelly, while the penultimate group was comprised of the top three players in the celebrity division. The thought was two-fold according to Foltz: Focus the coverage on the players contending in the tournament while allowing the celebrities in the field to see how their closest competitors were faring on Sunday. There aren’t many live leaderboards on property and previous year’s final groupings featured two LPGA players and one celebrity.
“Typically on a Sunday we don’t show players who aren’t in contention,” said Foltz. “The only three that were in contention were in that final group. It was a unique format and a unique situation.
“I don’t think any producer really sees the point in showing (an average shot) just to show you another golfer because it’s not relevant to the story, the drama,” he said. “You watch for who’s winning by Sunday, that’s what it’s all about. Had the players been in different groups, I think it would’ve felt a little more traditional, jumping back and forth between different groups as opposed to having all three in the last group, and the only three who have a chance to win.”
So, did it work?
“Ratings were up 10 percent for the entire package, 29 percent on Golf Channel year over year, and it was the most-watched time of this event since we put it on the air,” explained Foltz.
“Celebrity golf can be tough to watch, especially when they’re celebrities you’re really not familiar with,” said Foltz. “(The Pebble Beach Pro-Am and this) are geared to draw the non-avid fan to watch, and I think the numbers show that they did. If it were John Smoltz and Aaron Hicks battling it out down the stretch like last year when I was following Smoltz in the last group when he was trying to clinch it, it was compelling. As it turns out Mardy Fish was unbeatable and it wasn’t compelling.”
You can listen to the full episode here.