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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

New way to channel golf to fans

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Lights illuminated a beachside scene at Waialae Country Club and cameras were focused as commentator Mark Rolfing waited to interview Michelle Wie for The Golf Channel ... and waited and waited ...

The session was postponed several times because of technical difficulties in linking up with network headquarters in Orlando, Fla. The scene, at last month's Sony Open in Hawai'i, was a day after it had been announced The Golf Channel was awarded the PGA Tour's cablecast rights for 15 years, beginning in 2007.

It was a reminder of the job the 12-year-old all-golf network has ahead of it in the next 11 months as it prepares to become the PGA Tour's cable outlet and a major window on the sport.

How The Golf Channel grows to answer the challenge is important to more than just golf fans in Hawai'i. The network, which will air all three days of the LPGA Fields Open from Ko Olina beginning tomorrow, is increasingly becoming the state's cable link to the golf world and more. For a state that invests in golf as a tourism promotion, Hawai'i has a lot riding on TGC.

For in the PGA package for 2007 and beyond TGC replaces ESPN and USA. It will air the first and second rounds of 33 tournaments, including the Mercedes and Sony Open and 15 tournaments in their entirety. This is in addition to the LPGA and Champions tour events it also carries. NBC and CBS will be the PGA's other broadcast partners.

TGC reaches approximately 70 million households 20 million fewer than ESPN. In the dozen years since it was launched with Arnold Palmer a co-founder and became part of the Comcast empire, TGC has carved out an impressive niche and become a 24-hour home for hardcore golf fans.

But to serve the interests of the tours and tournaments it will represent it is going to need to attract the occasional and fringe fans as well, which means enhancing its appeal and polishing its product.

Rolfing, a Maui resident who is employed by both NBC and TGC, says, "I think we're going to need to go from zero to 60 (miles per hour). And, I think The Golf Channel is committed to upgrading in every possible way. I think you are going to see additional announcers, additional coverage, additional camera angles, everything to upgrade how the sport is presented."

Comcast is paying an average of $220 million per year for the PGA rights, according to Golf World magazine. How much more it might commit to signing commentators David Feherty? Johnny Miller? Paul Azinger? remains to be seen.

"To me, the most important day in the history of The Golf Channel, other than the day they opened the doors will be Thursday (of Jan. 2007) at the Mercedes," Rolfing said. "Because the entire world of golf will be watching to see how they do. They are going to have to be ready to go and I think they will be."

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.