Is there anything better than golf in May? The weather is warming, the birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming. Everyone’s getting in shape for Hot Golf Tournament Summer.
Well, almost everyone.
We all have a friend like the PGA Championship. The one who means so well. Who’s had their fair share of honest-to-goodness great moments. Who just wants to be one of the gang. But who, for some reason, spends the first glimpses of summer each year in a full-blown identity crisis.
Look around the room at golf’s four majors. There’s the Masters, golf’s greatest tradition; the U.S. Open, golf’s greatest test; the Open Championship, golf’s most historic championship; and the PGA, golf’s greatest … something. For years, the PGA has tested out different personalities — golf’s best field, golf’s final major, golf’s second major, the people’s major, the private club’s major — and for years, the PGA has failed to fully find itself.
Sure, we all like the PGA. And sure, we all want the PGA in our group. But we also want what’s best for the PGA, and we’re pretty sure that journey of self-realization begins with learning how to embrace its differences. By learning how, in the words of every comforting friend ever, to love itself. To that end, we have a friendly observation: could the PGA’s identity be sitting in front of its (and our) very eyes?
Could it be that the PGA is golf’s greatest innovator? Each year, the tournament’s shapeshifting foundation proves the perfect breeding ground for a host of new ideas in the golf world. Not every idea qualifies as good (this one’s for you, miles-off-site-parking), but more often than not, the ideas utilized by the PGA find themselves hurtling into the furthest reaches of the golf world.
Nowhere is the more true than in the PGA Championship tournament broadcast, where each year, the PGA of America presents the golf world with a vision of golf on television as it one day could be. The PGA Championship broadcast is arguably golf TV’s best major; a tournament that brought us Phil Mickelson’s on-air debut, ESPN’s dizzying return, and the creation of the first-ever golf “Manningcast” — all in the last five years.
The PGA has even more TV goodness cooked up for 2023, which we’ll outline below in the Hot Mic’s second major championship mega-preview (working title: Major Mic). But first, we’ll start with the biggest innovation of all by handing the mic to our friends at No Laying Up.
ESPN’s No Laying Up Experiment
Programming notes: “The PGA Championship With No Laying Up”: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET, ESPN+
“Matty and the Caddie”: Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., ESPN and ESPN2;
Saturday and Sunday, 9-10 a.m., ESPN+
It is going to be a busy summer for NLU, which has quickly become a golf media darling. Last week, the Hot Mic broke that NLU‘s Chris Solomon will be contributing to Peacock’s coverage of the 2023 U.S. Open, helping to bring a brand-new broadcast idea to life. As it turns out, the whole No Laying Up crew will be joining ESPN at the PGA for something very similar, hosting a show the network is calling “the PGA Championship with No Laying Up.”
The show, which will run as a lead-in to Saturday and Sunday’s coverage on ESPN+, “will feature an array of guests to offer running commentary and conversation during live play.” It will be produced by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, the same company behind the critically acclaimed “Manningcast” broadcasts.
Omaha will produce another alternate broadcast on ESPN’s linear network that will take a similar shape to the NLU show. ESPN talent Matt Barrie and Michael Collins will host that program, called “Matty and the Caddie,” taking over the role vacated by Joe Buck in 2022.
In recent years, alternate broadcasts have grown increasingly popular with sports TV networks, who see the cheap-to-produce shows as an easy way to draw legions of casual fans.
ESPN … golf TV ‘kingmakers’?
Thursday, 5/18: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (ESPN+), 1-7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Friday, 5/19: 7 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (ESPN+), 1-7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Saturday, 5/20: 8-10 a.m. ET (ESPN+), 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Sunday, 5/21: 8-10 a.m. ET (ESPN+), 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Programming notes: ESPN+ streaming coverage will show featured groups/holes and live tournament coverage. Alternate telecasts will air for four hours each day.
In a lot of ways, the PGA Championship owes a debt of gratitude to ESPN.
It was back in 2020 that the PGA of America resurrected the worldwide leader’s golf coverage at TPC Harding Park, bringing a new age of golf television coverage into the fold. ESPN’s coverage that year was the stuff of legend: blazing fast, super-smart and unabashedly tech-forward.
The next year, when ESPN returned to Kiawah Island, CBS followed closely in tow, presenting its first true vision of the forward-thinking broadcast that now dominates PGA Tour Sundays.
In that first year on ESPN, the PGA Championship’s new image was crafted for the world to see — one that remains one of the best (if not the best) in professional golf.
I wondered if ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt agreed with the role his network has played in bringing the PGA a much-needed sense of identity. He demurred.
“I don’t want to be that bold and suggest that we’re like, kingmakers, because I don’t think we are,” Van Pelt said. “The event is a major championship. It was before we were part of it, and it will be if at some point we’re not doing it.”
If there’s a sense of identity attached to the PGA now that ESPN is doing it, Van Pelt said, it’s because ESPN is amplifying it — not creating it.
“I don’t know that we’re giving identity as much as we’re committing the bandwidth that we’ve got to elevate the coverage in a way I think we’re uniquely positioned to do,” he said. “This is a big deal. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got to the table, cover it with the respect that majors deserve, have some fun in the process, and I think that’s our identity. We bring our identity to covering this event, and that’s — I’m speaking for me here. I think that’s our approach”
CBS enters the digital age
Saturday, 5/20: 1-7 p.m. ET (CBS)
Sunday, 5/21: 1-7 p.m. ET (CBS)
Programming notes: CBS will use more than 120 cameras and 150 microphones throughout play, including “multiple” drones and 12 robotic cameras.
Much like ESPN, CBS has taken the PGA Championship as an invitation to test innovative new approaches to golf coverage — an effort that will continue this year in ways both visible and invisible to viewers.
Those watching at home will see (and hear) the difference almost instantaneously during CBS’s coverage — largely because the network will debut a new graphics and music package exclusively for the PGA. But the changes will expand well into play, when CBS deploys bells-and-whistles spanning from expanded robotic and drone cameras to a quartette of remote-controlled toptracer “minicams.”
Of course, the biggest broadcast addition for Oak Hill will be known only to those in the production truck. But that change — a shift from analog to IP audio and video technology — has the potential to dramatically affect the way golf broadcasts are enjoyed.
In making the shift, CBS is altering its primary transmission method of footage and audio from satellites to the internet. It’s an effort that should both speed up the network’s access to different camera shots and microphones and eventually, multiply the number of cameras and mics it can utilize during a show. In addition, the shift could help aid CBS’s remote-work capacities, expanding the number of people participating each week.
Overall, these updates represent only the beginning of the changes for CBS producer Sellers Shy and the rest of his crew, but they’re exciting ones for the future of golf on television.