Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Televised Golf

Watching the third round of the US Open on Sunday, I thought of one of my college professors. I forget the exact title of the course, but it was about media and culture. We read Marshall McLuhan and some other stuff. The professor (I wish I could remember his name) was making predictions about what media might look like in the coming years. (This was way back in 1968.) He said, among other things, that a helmet-like piece of headgear would be developed -- electrodes communicating directly with the brain -- that could transmit not just images and sounds, but smells and physical sensations, creating a virtual reality. He was especially intrigued by the pornographic implications, but also mentioned stuff like military training.

He repeatedly asserted that the appetite for television was insatiable. To illustrate his point, he predicted boldly that someday, people would actually watch entire golf tournaments on television. Golf!

Basketball is the perfect TV sport, he said, because the action is continuous and there’s lots of scoring so viewers won’t be bored. And it’s played in a small indoor space so it makes no unusual demands on TV technology.

Football is good on TV, too, he said, because it’s pretty easy to follow and the physical stuff (big guys banging into each other) is easy to capture on camera.

Baseball is slow – lots of long stretches between action – and much of what’s important in baseball is small (pitch location, for example) and hard to capture on TV (remember, we’re talking 1968 here, when cameras were clumsy and there was no such thing as freeze-frame or instant replay or super slo-mo or the extreme closeup). If people will watch baseball on TV (and they did in 1968), they’ll watch anything. Even bowling. Even…more golf!*

He’d shake his head and laugh at the absurd truth of it.

And I pretty much agreed with the professor for the last 40 years. Televised golf is just a snooze.Until Sunday, that is. Here I was, watching golf on TV. It was what the late Jim McKay called hyperbolically “the human drama of athletic competition.” On a golf course?


* Golf was televised before 1968, of course, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the third and fourth rounds of a PGA tour event were televised in their entirety. The professor was talking about the likelihood of people watching more than the last few holes of the final round. I do not believe even he could have anticipated The Golf Channel.


Rob Hardy said...

I remember being so bored one summer as a teenager that I actually watched professional putting on television. Not just golf, miniature golf. It was not quite as thrilling as watching paint dry. Maybe that's next: The Paint Drying Channel.

Did your professor anticipate the Web? Because on the Web there's the miracle of webcams. My favorite: Cheddarvision. Yes, you can watch cheese maturing.

Bleeet said...

If there were more bikinis involved, and large-breasted women, and !extreme! holes with teeth and sparks shooting out of them, then I'd watch golf. In the meantime, I'll keep staring at my navel. It's quite interesting. I wonder if a golf ball could be putted into it?

By the way, the reason you watched golf recently has much more to do with you being boring, Jim. It says nothing about society's appetite for televised entertainment. So, relax.

Jim H. said...


Some people say golf isn't a real sport because there is no defense (that is, nobody to block shots or catch the struck ball or tackle the guy with the ball). Your idea about holes shooting sparks and baring teeth could overcome this lack of defense.

Or we could combine skeet shooting and golf, with shotgun-toting marksmen lining the fairways, shooting down those beautiful drives.


Thanhks for those delicious links! How do you embed them in comments?