On the demise of golf on Australian free-to-air TV

If there is one thing that gets Aussie Golfer readers angry, it is the demise of golf on free-to-air TV.

The slow demise of golf on free-to-air Australian TV has certainly brought with it plenty of emotions, expletives and more comments on this blog than nearly all other topics.

It has been dying a slow death for just over a decade and it is probably no coincidence that it has followed the same trajectory as the number of golf tournaments featuring Greg Norman.

During any hot weekend afternoon of the late 1980’s, you could be sure that a flick through the channels would yield not just the cricket or the V8’s but a golf tournament; usually featuring Greg Norman in something like the West End Open or The Palm Meadows Cup.

Since the glory days of The Great White Shark, most free-to-air golf has been restricted to the majors and the WGC events, with momentary jolts from the golf defibrillator courtesy of Channel 9, IMG and the appearance of Tiger Woods.

Until just a few years ago, one would not have imagined golf disappearing from free-to-air television, but that is exactly what happened for last year’s British Open, which saw the prestigious event broadcast exclusively on FoxSports.

The writing was on the wall when OneHD announced (or perhaps quietly mumbled) that it was no longer going to be a 24-7 sports channel. The network was a great supporter and broadcaster of Australian golf, who produced The Pro Shop golf show and had exclusive rights to the US Masters and WGC events. The golf wasn’t as frequent as the weekly US PGA and European Tour events shown on FoxSports, but at least the big events were on free-to-air.

It soon became obvious that golf was no longer on the list of priorities for OneHD when they broadcast NASCAR instead of the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship in March this year.

The first four days of the event were broadcast live and uninterrupted. But the final, most important day of golf was demoted in favour of the left-hand turners. OneHD and Network Ten they were contractually obliged to broadcast NASCAR live, which failed to ameliorate angry golf fans.

It was like showing a full year of footy, without showing the Grand Final.

The rumours that Ten Network were to drop golf altogether were all but confirmed when they announced they would not be broadcasting this year’s Australian Open, well before the field is even announced.

This is not just a problem for golf fans, but tournament organisers will have a much tougher job to entice sponsors for our national tournament.

After the most recent US Open was only shown on FoxSports, don’t expect any change ahead of next week’s Open Championship from Royal Lytham. Once again, FoxSports will have exclusive coverage of the tournament that features no less than 13 Australians in the field.<

The fact is, golf doesn’t rate on TV.

If it did, free-to-air television networks would be stumbling over each other to show more golf, rather than giving it away to pay-TV. There is simply not enough Australian golf fans watching golf on TV, and there is no way TV networks will air golf just to please a few viewers.

Of course, if you have FoxSports you’re laughing and probably couldn’t care less. The coverage is ultimately much better with less advertisements, longer broadcast times and repeat viewings of every round. But should anyone care at all, and will it have any effect on your weekend round of golf?

Obviously, golf will have less direct exposure into Australian households which will probably have a detrimental effect on golf participation. If less people are playing golf, ultimately golf will cost more to play and there will be less golf clubs.

The effect may not be fully seen for another generation or so but if the current state of many Australian golf clubs is anything to go by, perhaps it has already started.

12 thoughts on “On the demise of golf on Australian free-to-air TV

  • Tough situation, all the points you make about the decrease in golf exposure etc are true.

    But on the other hand, it is a bit hard to criticize companies about the quality of service that they are giving you for free. OneHD not showing The Open? What can you do? Ask for your money back?

    At the end of the day FTA channels are going to show what rates best, and at the moment that isn’t golf. They can’t be blamed for not showing something that doesn’t rate well.

    The old adage “you get what you pay for” rings true here. If you really want to see the golf, pay for FoxSports.

  • Fair enough comment BGH but I have a hard time being forced into buying pay TV to view iconic events. In fact I refuse. I will instead watch the limited vision available on the Opengolf website.

  • I don’t have Fox and it grates me when I miss the majors that I have been watching since I was a small boy.

    Having said this though TV stations are businesses and not charities and BGH is right on the money.

    Pitty but that’s life!

  • Ironically the best free to air golf brOadcast is now the ABC and the women’s events in summer.

  • It’s disappointing considering Australia has 2 of the world’s best players in Adam Scott and Jason Day. As is the case with all television if it’s not rating then the broadcasters are not going to show it.

    I think what golfers like us need to do is support the golf when it’s on television and hopefully the television stations will see the huge demand for it.

  • As a golf professional who plays in all the big australian events and many in Asia, and seeing the live coverage received every day in Asia, it is very frustrating to know that these events may not be broadcast on fta. I think it has a lot to do with the setup and running costs of a golf tournament for a tv provider- all the cabling and tv towers and cameras etc that are required as opposed to a stadium that has permanent positions for cameras etc is enormous. In actual fact, the golf, particularly last year with quality fields in the lead up to and around the presidents cup, rated quite well (I’ve seen the numbers) but I imagine that the tv companies are predicting that this years fields won’t be as strong and so have ditched it. The frustration for us is, as you quite rightly say, that major sponsors will pull their money if they’re not receiving adequate exposure and that makes it very difficult for the hosting bodies to sell these events and for us to have prizemoney to play for. I know that the PGA is trying very hard to continue the momentum established last summer in Australia and it’d be nice to think that one of the networks will put their hand up.

    • Gday Brent, good to see you contributing to local golf blogs. I watched you at the Aussie Masters at Vic last year. You had a cracker tournament, but do you think you would have had a chance of winning the whole thing if you didn’t have to put up with Luke Elvy yapping for 72 holes?

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  • I really like most of the articles from the Aussie Golfer, however I must make a few comments on this one!! Firstly, to say that Golf in Australia has only been slipping since Greg Norman ceased to feature is highly questionable.. There is no doubt that Norman contributed heaps to Australian Golf, that goes without question, however one of the main reasons for golf now rating so poorly in Australia is the result of “The Powers that Be” failing to recognize the warning signs as long as 20 years ago!! I believe Norman rode the “Crest of a Wave” already created in what I call the “Halcien days of Australian Golf” Between the early 1960’s and the 1980’s ‘The Best Golfers in the World Played in Australia every year!! The Records speak for themselves.. Gary Player South Africa, 7 Australian Open Wins, Jack Nicklaus USA 6 Aus Open Wins, then Greg Norman 5 Aus Open Wins.. Together with Nicklaus & Player, you had Palmer, Watson, Ballesteros the list goes on and on.
    These players came to Australia because they wanted to compete throughout the World, sure they got sponsorship, Player & Nicklaus from Slazenger Aus, however, “man” did we sell a lot of Slazenger Clubs. No one would argue the pitance they were paid in sponsorship wasn’t well worth it.. Then what happened?? The Monopoly of a US Tour killed off that International Travel. Ironically Greg Norman was one of the first to see this happening and Advocated “A World Tour” Only to be harrassed, bullied and Tormented by the Heirarchy of the US Tour into submission. The rest is perhaps history, but make no bones about it.. The heads of Golf in Australia both Amateur and Professional did “Little about it”
    Only Ross Baker’s Thoughts…

  • what a load of the proverbial are tv programmers.My old mate jim mckay must be shaking his head in disgust.

  • I find it difficult to believe that ratings are the issue with golf coverage. Have a look at the program guides for FTA, and then tell me that ‘business interests’ aren’t involved in pressuring viewers towards pay-TV.

  • If golf clubs/shops could muster up a few dollars to support the FTA channels during these events, they would benefit in the long term by increased participation.


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