Sky captures The Open

Added on February 19th, 2015 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping, TV Coverage

FineGolf explores Sky TV’s capture of live coverage of  The Open Championship


Firstly let’s state what has been presented as the two sides of the argument:

the open championship claret jug,

The Claret Jug

1) Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, golf’s governing body outside of the USA, said: “We believe this is the best result for The Open and for golf and will provide significantly increased financial support to golf participation initiatives in the UK and Ireland. The way people consume live sport is changing significantly and this new agreement ensures fans have a range of options for enjoying the Championship on television, on radio and through digital channels.”

2) Richard Penley-Martin, Secretary at Ganton GC does not agree: “The R&A have just sold the soul of golf for a quick buck and what will they do when their study into golf participation shows a decline because they sold out to Sky, just like it did when the Ryder Cup was sold to Sky! Lack of exposure to the general public equals lower engagement. Why is cycling so popular? – because it’s available for all to view and be inspired by them.” (Note: BBC coverage of the Masters is watched by five times the number who watch Sky).

The above debate is restricted to how can participation in golf be increased by TV and that is broken down into technical coverage and accessibility.

An aspect that The R&A seems to be relying on is that the Sky coverage will be of a higher ‘technical’ quality than the BBC, which has come in for criticism of being ‘fixed in the past’- whatever that means, while some others have suggested that actually the BBC format is more accessible to a wider less technical audience.

Perhaps The R&A has got the balance about right with the BBC highlights in the evening accessible to all, while the anoraks enjoy the technical Sky coverage all day?

Nevertheless, FineGolf considers there should be a lot more to the debate and asks: “Isn’t everybody dodging the core issue by only talking about how it is delivered while avoiding the subject of :

Why is The Open so exciting and attractive to watch?”


Is it just about ‘golf’ on the biggest tournament platform, the most money, watching all the heroes, the detail of who is winning and the social camaraderie of the chat in which everybody can engage, that is so attractive? Or is it also:

The Open shows the fundamental polarisation between ‘running’ and ‘target’ golf.


Is this why The Open is the ultimate challenge in the game?


FineGolf has criticised TV coverage for some years for showing too much of the easy to film parts with fixed cameras, ie the driving and putting. CLICK to see an analysis of a poll on the question of what we expect to see and what we actually get. Sky perhaps can use their technical expertise to use more interesting camera perspectives.

ball plugged

Ball plugged on Poa green

But let’s park that for the moment and focus on the ‘everything else’ beyond the ‘driving and putting’ and recognise that TV, for most of the year centring on target golf courses around the world, gives us approach shots coming into soft target greens over hideously penal bunkers or water, which is frankly a bit predictable and therefore a touch boring, even if the shot is beyond most recreational players. The commentators feast on the recreational golfer looking on in wonder and awe at the magician Mickelson as he floats his wedge shots out of sticky lush rough around those soft greens on the American circuit or plays into the fifteenth at The Masters with no backspin off pine needles, across the stream and stops it dead by the pin.


The Augusta Masters is a great TV spectacular and we all know the course so well (or at least the last nine holes) it has become the northern hemisphere’s opening to the golf season. Being in a hot climate area, fine turf will not grow there and FineGolf has the temerity to call that well designed course ‘artificial in make-up’ and not a good example for British golfers to want their greenkeepers to copy.

chambers bay golf club

Chambers Bay

Indeed to the USGA’s credit The U.S. Open is to be held this year for the first time on the fine fescue grassed Chambers Bay course in the cooler climate of west coast Washington State. The American golf governing body has recognised that ‘firm and running’ is where the greatest challenge exists.

The (British) Open with its inherently natural, firm, fast surfaces, requires the Professionals to use creative, imaginative running-golf and the delicate ‘bump-and-run’, the percentage shot that everybody can play across firm aprons, comes into its fascinating own.

The BBC’s Ken ‘on-the-course’ Brown had a great opportunity to explore, as developed on linksland, the most enjoyable type of golf and the different types of shot required, ‘under the wind’ and on ‘tight-firm-running-turf’. But for whatever reason he or the BBC ducked it, preferring to focus on design rather than agronomy. Has he ever interviewed anybody who:

  • could have waxed lyrical about the difference between ‘running’ and ‘target’ golf?
  • could explain what exactly is it that makes the ‘fine-running’ and the ‘weed-target’ turf different to play on?

“Nah!” You can hear the TV execs saying, “that is not of interest to our viewers. Most golfers just want to hit the ball as far as they can and stop the ball easily by the pin and our coverage must reflect what interests our punters.”

It has been argued that it would be commercial suicide for Sky to undermine ‘target-golf’ on which most of its coverage is based. But now the balance has shifted. Sky now will control The Open, the Scottish Open, and the Dunhill Links; all events played on ‘running’ courses. It has the very real commercial opportunity of structuring a broadcast coverage around a

top of the market ‘running-golf’ Tour TV product with coverage of an exploration of the finer aspects of golf.

This would certainly attract luxury product sponsorship and advertising, which is from where presently most golf on-course and TV advertising comes, along with that from the equipment boys.

The only damage suffered would be that any advertising income from the chemical companies who rely on selling unnatural fertilisers and fungicides to the majority of Poa dominated courses, would be unlikely to support a ‘running-golf’  tour.

But more than that Sky has the opportunity of getting in tune with The R&A and helping set a vision as to ‘where’ golf as a sport should be. Should it be just focused on maximising short-term income and throwing money at politically correct participation? That is a fast way to turn the majority of golfers off who simply want:

cheaper, quicker, easier golf, with a wide range of clubs to give choice to all.


Jim Arthur golf agronomist

Jim Arthur

During the 1970s, 80s and 90s Jim Arthur was a difficult and determined hero, doing more than anybody to save The Open courses from becoming ‘target golf’.

Is it possible that Sky could now realise that a significant part of its most prestigious coverage is now ‘running’ rather than ‘target’ golf?


If Sky undertook an educational perspective, centring around that dichotomy, covering all the “sustainable, low input, more maintenance affordable, less penal hazards for beginners etc” arguments that are favoured by ‘running-golf’, in conjunction with its sheer ‘joy-to-be-alive’ enjoyment, then perhaps Sky could be a winner for golf and itself?

Bruce Critchley sky golf commentator

Bruce Critchley

A small example: Two years ago during coverage of the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart I texted Bruce Critchley that “the commentators had missed an opportunity for an interesting debate on what was the appropriate club to use around those firm aprons and greens. One of the players had been shown from over the back of the second green ‘dunking’ his wedge shot into the bank with the ball coming back to his feet. Another ‘skulled’ his wedge shot from the front of and across the fifth green into the back bunker.”

Castle Stuart golf

Castle Stuart in February 2015

I suggested that Sky provide “a commentary about the ‘bump-and-run’ with a modern eight iron being the obvious shot to choose on both occasions but the pros get such little practice with this shot; when playing 95% on target courses, they always go to their wedges for supposed safety.” I thought this was an interesting aspect to raise and to Bruce’s credit he texted back to say he would pass on the thought to their resident Pro commentator but was it ever taken up…?!

Will the Sky executives interpret The R&A’s requirement to jump on the fashionable bandwagon of the need to attract more juniors and women into golf, by a dumbing down in their coverage and will they recognise the historic opportunity in front of them and devise a broadcast coverage around a ‘running-golf ’ Tour,

something of which the whole of the recreational golf world can be proud?

in renewing the ultimate vision for ‘Golf ‘

Finally, just as an addendum for the BBC: How about picking up what 83 year-old Peter Allis, the BBC’s golf anchor since the 1970s says: “Hand on heart, I can’t not criticise the BBC. They are far and away the R&A’s biggest television client, so why haven’t they said to them: ‘You know, we’re struggling against the financial might of Sky but why don’t we also cover some of the other events you run, like the Amateur Championship, the Boys Championship and the Walker Cup?”. In this way the tax-funded national broadcaster could really boost participation in healthy golf by helping popularise the top of the amateur game. – Nah! Football is easier.


Reader Comments

On February 24th, 2015 tony haines said:

In my view there is an almost desperate need to encourage players into golf and more interesting TV coverage is a must. An effective move could be to reduce coverage time on the greens before the actual putt. This would really help limit the switch-off numbers in potential new players.Even low handicap people are getting very bored. USA coverage is bad in this aspect also.

On February 24th, 2015 Leonard Smith said:

Like you, I was angry that Sky had apparently outbid the BBC for broadcast rights of The Open.

But then the R&A understandably subsequently revealed (having beforehand assumed the normal covention of not commenting on the details of rival bids) that in fact the BBC never entered a bid for live broadcast rights and were only ever interested in recorded highlights !

In other words, the R&A were given no choice.

On February 24th, 2015 David Norman said:

Wrote to the R & A before and after Xmas not sell out our birthright to Sky ! needless to say still awaiting a reply , and they are complaining of a lack of new golfers , guess what thanks to them it be even less .

On February 24th, 2015 Peter Newman said:

I do think its important to look for some innovation in the attempts to attract more women and juniors to the game. The LET in particular would benefit surely from some more TV coverage. But perhaps it needs to include a few different formats – perhaps a mixed Better Ball/Foursomes tournament even, joined by pros from the European Tour and Challenge Tour ranks might be sufficiently intriguing to appeal to a TV production unit?

On June 26th, 2015 James B said:

Peter Alliss’s criticism of the BBC for not approaching the Royal and Ancient to cover the Walker Cup is interesting – since I distinctly remember enjoying watching the last four home Walker Cups (Nairn 1999, Ganton 2003, RCD 2007 and Royal Aberdeen 2011) on… oh, hang on, the BBC!

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