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By Bill Kwon
After a 15-year run on ESPN and Golf Channel, it's not just Golf Hawaii anymore for Mark Rolfing. He's going global and on network television with a golf travel series that will premiere on NBC March 27 as a lead-in to live coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Called Global Golf Adventure, the initial 30-minute show will be from the Wailea Resort on Maui with a side visit to Lāna'i's Challenge at Manele and the Experience at Koele golf courses, and will feature Michelle Wie as the first guest, Laird Hamilton surfing a monster on Maui's North Shore and a golf tip by Dottie Pepper showing how golfers can learn to improve their game by watching golf on television.
The series will continue as a third-round, lead-in to NBC's live coverage of the Players Championship on May 8, then on July 31 as a lead-in to the U.S. Senior Open from a golf course in the British Isles — Rolfing hopes it'll be in Wales because the third show will focus on the Ryder Cup there. The finale on Sept. 5 (a Sunday) will be from either Canada or Asia as a lead-in to the third-round coverage of the FedEx Cup Deutsche Bank Championship on Labor Day weekend.
"As the game of golf continues to grow worldwide, going global was a natural progression for us," said Rolfing, a Maui resident who began his network broadcasting career for NBC Sports more than 20 years ago. "I am tremendously excited about this new project and think the viewers will really enjoy our wide range of destinations and guests. There are a lot of different elements to it. It's the first time a show like this will be on network television."
Rolfing is surprised how well received his new venture has been, not only by NBC Sports, but by participating partners Golf Digest and the PGA Tour.
Golf Digest is promoting the Global Golf Adventure premiere in its April issue, which will be on the stands next week. The PGA Tour will play a role with the international distribution of the show. Besides Continental Airlines, which will be the presenting sponsor, other national sponsors are FedEx, Michelin and The Villages, a Florida residential community. "The show is sold out from a commercial standpoint. In today's economy that is tough to do," said Rolfing, who hadn't expected this kind of a response.
As an NBC golf commentator, Rolfing looked at the network's PGA schedule and thought it would be a good idea having a golf-related adventure program as a third-round lead-in to live coverage at its golf telecasts. "Typically, NBC had a taped show prior to our live coverage which was not necessarily golf. I just thought there was an opportunity to have some type of a golf show lead into live golf. It was a natural progression from the old Golf Hawaii concept to do it for NBC Sports."
In terms of today's economic climate, Rolfing calls it a "miracle" how it all worked out. "It's pretty difficult to start a new venture, especially on network television. We were able to find some great sponsors that really embraced the idea. Fortunately, I've got a relationship with many of the players, so coming up with guests was not going to be a problem. Everybody felt like an international golf travel show was long overdue."
It'll also afford Rolfing an opportunity to travel the world. He's especially looking forward to the second show, which will highlight Bermuda. "I've never been to Bermuda before," said Rolfing, whose expected guest will be Stewart Cink, who played there in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf after winning the British Open. Johnny Miller will be providing golf tips in that show.
Rolfing says he's quite optimistic that the show will be well received by golf fans and the ratings should be good in view of the lead-in to live golf coverage on network television. "We've got an agenda of premier tournaments we're leading into," he said. "And, if the weather's bad on Saturday, March 27, as it has been all winter, the ratings will be very good."
Not surprisingly, the March 27 premiere from Hawai'i features Wie. "I felt like it was important for a Hawai'i show to have Michelle Wie. She talks about her past and future and says some very interesting things, implying at the end what her ultimate goal is. You got to wait for the show for that one," said Rolfing. But he did give a hint: "It hasn't changed."
Bill Kwon can be reached at email@example.com