NBC’s ‘Beyond the Fairway’ podcast aims to introduce listeners to golf’s vibrant new future
Will Lowery plays golf cross-handed.
That isn’t a figure of speech. He grips the club with his right hand higher than his left, a product of his first sporting passion.
“I was a big tennis player as a kid. I played all the time,” Lowery says with a laugh. “Coming from the ‘hood, everybody was trying to be like Michael Jordan. Well, I was trying to be like Michael Chang.”
The grip begets the signature element of his golf game: a wonky, looping swing that first endeared him to golf fans on Golf Channel’s The Big Break a decade ago.
“When I picked up a golf club, I just thought it was the right way of hitting a forehand,” he said. “I’ve been trying to hit forehand cross course with a golf club ever since. A swing only a mother could love.”
Today, Lowery hosts “Beyond the Fairway” alongside Doug Smith, a podcast focused around, in Lowery’s words, “bringing golf a different feel.” The show is NBC’s most recent foray into the golf audio space.
“Beyond the Fairway” is carried by its hosts, whose gregarious personalities help deliver a show that feels familiar both to the guest and viewer. Lowery and Smith are natural conversationalists, evidenced by the show’s success landing non-traditional golf guests like Macklemore, Marcus Allen and Sadena Parks.
It is also believed to be the only golf podcast in which both hosts are Black — a fact that is not hidden from the show, but central to it.
“I got a phone call from NBC, from [Golf Channel executive producer] Molly Solomon,” Lowery remembers. “She said, ‘Will, what can we do about getting minorities involved in the game of golf?’ Well, I said, ‘Let’s have Black people talking about golf, just that simple.’ I told her we had a concept that I wanted to run by her, which is a golf podcast similar to a breakfast club.”
A few days later, Lowery began building a show in a mold unlike anything in the golf media landscape, in which golfers of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds would be recruited to speak honestly about their experience within the game — and in the process, to serve as a beck and call for a new, diverse generation of players.
“I think it’s important for the sport because it gives the chance for people to look on another side of the sport,” he said. “Golf is such a wonderful game, but I’m not sure if golfers understand and are able to know what’s going on in a different clubhouse.”
To achieve that goal, Lowery knew he needed a capable sparring partner. He reached out to Doug Smith — an old friend and director of mobile sales and operations at GOLF’s sister company, True Spec Golf — who quickly agreed. The duo first met about 11 years ago, when they squared off in a mini-tour event, then spent the afternoon galavanting through Southern California.
“[Smith] said, ‘Hey, I don’t know you, but I’m going to take a ride around L.A. I just want to explore it on my first time here,'” Lowery said. “I said, ‘Bro, I don’t know you either, and I’m gonna ride with you.’ So that kind of kicked off a friendship right there.”
With Smith and Lowery as co-pilots, the podcast launched in January. New episodes are released every Tuesday, recently starring a “dream” interview with NBA star Steph Curry. Conversations span the gamut of golf, with some diving into the complexities of race and sport, and others remaining light and fun.
“The goal is to cater to a new audience, and make the new audience feel comfortable,” Lowery said. “And also to educate the older audience who may not be as aware. So what can Doug and I talk about? How can we have a conversation that is similar to society to make those people who are interested in the game really commit and become full participants?”
Even in the wake of Hideki Matsuyama’s historic Masters victory, it’s no secret that diversity in golf is sorely lacking. According to a recent report from the National Golf Foundation, 76 percent of golfers are male, and close to three-quarters are white.
Rather than trying to carve a slice of a crowded pie, “Beyond the Fairway” is honing in on a new generation of golfers. It’s a different approach, but then again, Lowery and Smith aren’t your typical golfers.
Maybe there’s something to that cross-handed grip.