‘It can change people’s lives’: Why Torrey Pines’ *other* event this week could be so impactful

Kamaiu Johnson is playing in both the Farmers Insurance Open (pictured) this week and the Farmers Insurance Invitational.

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Should you tune in to the Golf Channel broadcast this Sunday, the network would proudly like you to know that you won’t find what you’re expecting.

Yes, there will be a golf telecast, as there are many Sundays on Golf Channel — which, in concert with its parent company NBC, owns the rights to roughly half of the PGA Tour’s events. The telecast will still have the iconic peacock logo in the lower righthand corner, and will still feature many of the same graphics and names and faces you’ve come to expect from the network’s years of covering the sport.

But just about nothing else will look familiar.

When you flip on the channel from 5-7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, you will not find the usual broadcast team, the normal players or the normal tournament. In place of Steve Sands, Nick Faldo and John Wood, you’ll find Damon Hack, Notah Begay, Doug Smith and Jacques Slade, with Hack handling play-by-play, Begay as lead analyst and Smith and Slade as on-course reporters. In place of Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and (newly blond) Brooks Koepka, you’ll find Willie Mack, Aaron Beverly and Marcus Byrd. And in place of the Farmers Insurance Open, you’ll find the Farmers Insurance Invitational, a 36-hole event hosted annually by the Advocates Professional Golf Association, a non-profit tour founded in 2010 with the goal of advancing golf’s diversity efforts.

Damon Hack and Notah Begay will call the action from the tower…

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…with Doug Smith serving as one of the on-course reporters.

Alonso Parra

“It’ll look and feel like a PGA Tour event,” Smith told GOLF.com of the 18-player event that will be conducted on Torrey Pines North on Saturday and the South course for Sunday’s televised finale. “It’s just gonna have a lot of different players out there. It’s gonna showcase guys that haven’t been in this position — that they have the talent to be out there. It’ll be interesting, man. I’m just happy to put my boys on.”

These shifts are due, in part, to changing schedules. To avoid cannibalizing ratings on the day of the NFL’s conference championship games, the PGA Tour has elected to have this week’s tournament end on Saturday.

But the opening provided by the Farmers Insurance Open also sprouts a unique opportunity for the Farmers Insurance Invitational — a gap that will bring the upstart event, and the APGA itself, into the national spotlight. Today, the tour provides a professional home to dozens of players from marginalized backgrounds, staging 11 events annually with the goal of preparing its members to compete at the highest level.

The pinnacle of that schedule is the Invitational, which provides the tour’s largest purse ($100,000) and its biggest exposure. This is thanks in large part to Ken Bentley, a board member at Farmers and the current CEO of the APGA, who has helped to steer his company’s resources and interest toward his tour.

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On Sunday, when Golf Channel airs the Farmers Insurance Invitational’s final round, the APGA will have its first-ever television audience. It’s a massive occasion for the tour, where purses typically land around $25,000, a pittance by today’s PGA Tour standards.

“What this can do for these guys’ careers is insurmountable, like this can really change the trajectory that these guys are on,” Smith said. “If somebody sees them or hears a story and thinks, ‘They could have sponsors, they could have invitations to events on the PGA Tour.’ So it’s a big week. This week can change people’s lives.”

It’s possible nobody is more qualified to speak to the importance of Sunday’s broadcast than Smith, whose winding career has had stops at just about every destination in the golf world. A former mini-tour-pro-turned-PGA-professional, Smith hosts NBC’s Beyond the Fairway podcast and has begun work as an analyst for ESPN+’s PGA Tour streaming coverage — all in addition to his day job as director of mobile sales and operations at True Spec Golf. (True Spec Golf and GOLF.com are affiliates of 8AM Golf.)

Smith is also Black, which affords him firsthand experience to the obstacles faced in the golf industry by those from marginalized backgrounds.

“I think what needs to happen — not just on the golf course but in the golf industry — we’ve got to stop talking about diversity. That’s gonna piss a lot of people off, but hear me out,” Smith said. “We need to shift the conversation, in my opinion, to equity and inclusion. When you think about the people who participate in golf, it’s a diverse group socioeconomically, racially, ethnically, by age. That’s diversity, but what about equity and inclusion? Is the sport inclusive? Are people welcome when they get to the course? Are people included that have been purposely excluded?”

Farmers’ investment in the APGA has given rise to players like Kamaiu Johnson and Willie Mack (pictured) on the PGA Tour.

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The tide won’t turn overnight, even with what is the most diverse broadcast in Golf Channel history showcasing the game’s most diverse tour. The APGA is still underfunded, and its players still largely overlooked by the golf establishment.

“Black golfers don’t have the same access that other players have,” Smith says. “And when they do get deals, you know, they’re penny deals.”

But change comes incrementally. The real work — what Smith, his colleagues at Golf Channel (notably executive producer Molly Solomon) and everyone at the APGA is focused upon — is ensuring this first broadcast isn’t also the last. This, in some small way, is how golf continues down the path toward equity and inclusion.

So, no, you won’t find the status quo on Golf Channel this Sunday, and isn’t it about time?

“I’m so thankful that I get the opportunity to talk about the game of golf,” he said. “I think that’s where we also need to see change, it’s not just on the course. It’s the people that are producing golf, people that are talking about golf, people that are head golf professionals. Those are the things we’ve got to learn how to celebrate, to get this next generation comfortable to come to the golf course.”

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.