Tee time, any time, all the time. As sweet a notion this is to legions of certified golf-a-holics craving a midnight fairway fix, in the pre-digital cable days of the mid-nineties, just the idea of a 24/7 single-sport network, (never mind one solely dedicated to golf), was hard for people to get their heads around.
So when the Golf Channel first landed on the dial it was no hole in one. It was more like a shanked drive that careened into the unsuspecting windshield of a beemer in the parking lot. GOLF was the first niche sports channel, the blueprint for SPEED, OLN, The NFL Network and all the others that would follow so it didn't have the benefit of a role model to emulate when it hit the air in 1995 and made a lofty rookie mistake in launching as a stand alone pay service.
The fledgling network devoted to all things duffing, struggled to find an audience under a subscription model and lost $40 million in its first year. Clubhouse skeptics scoffed at the mere concept of a network dedicated to nothing but drives, putts and chips especially since you could already watch 600 hours of tournament action year round on free existing channels.
"Before I took this job the most common question I got asked was how in the world are you going to program golf 24 hours a day?" remembers senior vice president Bob Greenwell, who has been with the Golf Channel from day one.
"My response to this was if there is a sport in the world that could support its own channel it's got to be golf, because golf is more than a sport. Golf is a lifestyle. People live in golf communities and take golf vacations. People play golf their entire lives—in many cases till the day that they die."
The diehards didn't need convincing, they were hooked straight out of the gate but when The Golf Channel made the transition to a basic channel from a pay service in late 1997 it went mainstream in a hurry adding millions of viewers a year. Now not only did you have Arnie's Army veterans tuning in but also Tiger Woods fans, European tour nuts, and young Michelle Wei wannabees.
Today the Comcast owned channel taps into nearly 70 million viewers homes in the U.S. only fifteen million shy of ESPN. 4.8 million Canadian households get Golf and the channel also has a large following in Asia and the United Kingdom.
Aside from a bevy of instructional programming, and their popular reality franchise The Big Break, Golf is the home of the Champions Tour, European Tour, and Canadian Tour. It also televises more LPGA, USGA, PGA Australasia and Sunshine Tour events than all the other networks combined.
If you like golf, the golf channel is already your cup of tea and if you don't like golf the channel just might get you into the swing of the sport.
"I used to hear from a lot of wives that we ought to call it the Divorce channel because all their husbands do is watch it," laughs Greenwell, adding that he'd later hear from these same wives again and their tune had usually changed.
Like FOOD and HGTV, there's something about golf, the beauty and tranquility of the sport that can captivate viewers who've never even picked up a club.
The other day I went to visit my mother and I flipped on GOLF. Butch Harmon, who has taught a number of PGA pros including Tiger Woods and Darren Clarke was on explaining how you can take stress off your hips simply by pointing your right foot inwards. Next thing I knew my mother was air swinging along with Butch. She loved it. Now she says golf is just like yoga.
Copyright © Mike Dojc 2006