BBC Defended

Added on July 12th, 2012 by
Posted in Greenkeeping, TV Coverage

 A critical comment below was received from Ashley Potterton on the FineGolf article ‘Will the BBC do its duty?’  We publish in full, with FineGolf’s reply


“I’m a passionate lover of fast-running golf – and, I should add, very much enjoy your website – but this article is fundamentally misdirected.

When it comes to the BBC’s golf coverage, how they treat the particularities of playing surface is, frankly, a triviality. The “elephant in the room”, as you put it, is actually whether there will be any coverage at all. The doomsday scenario we face is that golf will go the same way as cricket and have no live free-to-air programming with which to inspire future generations, whether professional or amateur.

At present, The Open Championship is deemed inferior to the likes of the men’s and women’s finals at Wimbledon, the Epsom Derby and the rugby league Challenge Cup Final. Those events have to be shown live on free-to-air television as opposed to mere highlights of The Open. When the BBC’s current contract for The Open expires in 2016, the R&A could easily up sticks, ignore free-to-air altogether and take live coverage to a pay TV platform such as ESPN or Sky. Now THAT would be a betrayal of Britain’s golf heritage.

Given the job of safeguarding the game of golf in this country belongs to the Royal & Ancient and not the BBC, perhaps you should grind your axe with them about that one – although the cynic in me (forgive me) would suggest you have more friends at the R&A than the Beeb so perhaps that’s somewhat harder.

Your concept of programme editorial is also equally misplaced. The “duty” of the BBC’s coverage isn’t to facilitate a campaign to promote fast-running golf – any more than, for example, it’s about campaigning to preserve grass court tennis during its coverage of Wimbledon.

In the precious few hours in which live golf is on television, it should be exactly that: live golf. We need to see the extraordinary drama of the world’s best players tackling the world’s best courses whilst battling the elements, not an agronomist articulating the finer points of grass type. One of those two things is going to inspire people to fall in love with the purest form of the game – and it’s not the latter.

Last but not least, it is fatuous to present this as some kind of media conspiracy – and even worse to suggest it is endemic of some kind of journalistic malaise at the BBC. Yes the BBC made editorial misjudgments in its coverage of the Diamond Jubilee, but its television journalism alone means it currently owns the BAFTA for best journalism as well as four RTS journalism awards.”

FineGolf’s reply;


Dear Ashley,

As a rule of thumb, being a new and complete amateur in this world of journalism, I try to rely on advice from the professionals in the field and you as a professional and senior executive of a TV production company must be listened to.

I don’t disagree with your wish to keep golf on terrestrial TV but I guess this will have as much to do with the BBC’s attitude as the R&A’s.

Secondly your confident statement of who is responsible for what, seems so sensible on the surface for live golf to be treated as a commodity but you cleverly glaze over the fundamental point.

The BBC because it is funded by the taxpayer, has a duty to inform and educate as well as entertain.


It has £3.6 billion of taxpayer subsidy to invest in getting things right and quite often productions are of the highest quality.

Where the fault lies is in the BBC’s cultural leadership from the top brass which led to the dumbing down of the Jubilee coverage and the missing of a wonderful opportunity to engage with and a factual explanation of, the proud heritage of the country.

Over the years the BBC Open Championship coverage has been generally excellent because, from Henry Longhurst onwards, it respected its audience and their knowledge and mostly refrains from using the inane superlatives that used to characterise American golf commentary.

There are many reasons why The Open Championship, despite using more or less the same players as every other tournament, is the finest golf event in the world. The primary reason is the design and the condition of the course, which are both inextricably linked to produce the ultimate challenge of imaginative, creative shot-making, in contrast to mechanical, target-style form of the game.

The quirky movement in the land and the gathering-in nature of the bunkers and run-offs of a fine course i.e. the very design, are important but it is the fast-running, firm nature of the tight turf that gives the true challenge, because it requires the ball to be run closer to the ground rather than flown all the way through the air and stopped dead on a pudding.

I am certainly not saying that the type of all the grass on the greens is ideal at Royal Lytham & St Annes, -though the aprons are of high fescue quality- and if it rains hard, the greens are likely to soften appreciably, become receptive and the scoring lower, unlike those described in our article ‘non-sticky greens’.

There is nothing new in knowing that this derives from the grasses;  it has been known for hundreds of years and is where the heritage of the British game lies.

Whereas most golfers conceptually understand the difference between the running game and target golf, most have no idea of the difference between ‘the enemy’, the lush annual meadow grass (Poa annua) and the natural indigenous bents and fescue grasses that give the firm conditions for fine golf.

One wonders if it is typical of your TV producer profession that you in an arrogant, put down way, that allows no argument, describe this issue as a triviality? Its unlikely to attract those with their heads in the celebrity clouds but it might go down quite well with a knowledgeable golf crowd.

If as you say you enjoy the FineGolf website then you should know that FineGolf has been critical of the R&A in its inability to find a way to reduce the length a ball can be hit by professional golfers and in their wimping-out of communicating directly with golfers on the issue of ‘sustainable, natural greenkeeping’.

So please do not try to imply FineGolf has any axe to grind except independantly promoting what is finest, enduring and natural in golf.


True, not all agronomists/greenkeepers can make a complex subject practical, simple and interesting but some of them can and it’s time the BBC started working with them.

I am not saying SKY is any better in describing this core challenge of firm conditions. In fact, at the recent US Open they merely kept saying it was a tough course.

It comes down really to BBC golf commentators doing some preparation work (like Clare Balding does) so they can articulate and add an extra element in their portrayal of golf.

What we want the BBC to do is use some of its taxpayer subsidy to research, prepare, inform and educate in its coverage.

Cut the non-golfing celebrity interviewers and get the players and other professionals to explain why it is so tough. That needs to be done with some historical and technical understanding, so the drama of the moment is enhanced.

As I mentioned in the article, Michael Barratt (one of TV’s primary presenters in the 1970/80s and involved with the R&A) thinks you are not alone among the TV media in believing that this crucial factor, that helps determine why it is The Open that gives the Champion Golfer, should be ignored.

But FineGolf calls on the BBC to do its duty and explore this area of our game. It is where Britain excels and it is patriotic to investigate and educate the world’s golfing public to Britain’s strengths and advantages.


It is heartening that others in the print media are not of your cynical view, one conspicuous instance being the article in the next edition (August/September) of the largest golf magazine, Golf Monthly (readership 70,000) that explores what FineGolf is all about.


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