As a general rule, I enjoy watching travel shows, particularly if they’re hosted by an attractive blonde. But the pilot episode of “Destination Golf,” Golf Channel’s foray into the travel market, didn’t leave me reaching for the remote to record future episodes on my DVR.
The show, which aired initially on Sept. 21, was dragged down by a superficial approach and a lack of authenticity, which relates in part to the miscasting of Lauren Thompson as host. Golf Channel viewers know Thompson as the host of its “Top 10” series, in which her role is simply to introduce segments. On “Destination Golf,” she’s asked to do much more.
“Going from the familiar to the unknown, that’s the thrill of golf travel,” Thompson says at the outset of “Destination Golf: Ireland’s Wonderful West.” “That’s why I look up at a departure sign and see a wish list of adventures.”
Those adventures apparently don’t include golf, which, one assumes, Thompson doesn’t play. Her job is to serve as the spokesmodel on a whirlwind trip through seven Irish counties, but she’s out of her element, arriving at golf courses not in FootJoys but in heels and short dresses. Elsewhere, the occasional shots of Thompson walking along the beach in a bikini might help with the 25-34 demographic, but they underscore the skin-deep nature of the show.
This is not snobbery. If you’re going to premise the show on “the thrill of golf travel,” the host needs to convey the sense that she truly is passionate not just about the travel, but the golf. When she arrives in County Mayo, Thompson says, “I’m looking for golf,” but we never see her doing anything on a golf course other than a few stand-up interviews. Thompson seems far more at ease in the pubs or when the camera is lingering on her wearing the sort of formal wear that you’re unlikely to find in serious golfers’ suitcases when they arrive at the airport in Shannon or Dublin.
“Destination Golf” suffers as well from some stilted writing, which I suppose is not uncommon in the travel genre. Early on, Thompson intones, “As I pull into County Sligo, history fills the air and stretches across the horizon.” Later, upon arriving at Waterville Golf Links, she says, “Deep breaths come easy when the surroundings are this pure.” Waterville, we’re told, “is an absolute work of art,” which it is, of course, but the links doesn’t benefit from such hackneyed phrasing.
A nagging aside: Thompson repeatedly refers to her destinations as “Galway County” or “Kerry County,” rather than adopting the traditional Irish style, with “County” preceding the formal name. That might seem like nitpicking, but it speaks to the show’s inherent lack of authenticity.
Oddly, we actually see very little of the golf courses other than some wide-angle and aerial shots. If you’re doing a show about golf travel, don’t you need to show viewers the golf courses in more detail? And the first episode tries to bite off too much. Golf Channel would have been far better off narrowing its regional focus – say, concentrating on the emerging northwest coast or popular County Kerry in southwest Ireland – and delving deeper.
In fairness, this genre is not as easy to execute successfully as it might initially appear. There is a tendency to lapse into banal descriptions and become so caught up in celebrating the romance of the game that one forgets it is, in fact, a game that’s meant to be fun.
Fine Living Channel made a reasonably viewable attempt at the genre in its “Wandering Golfer” series, but that show apparently hasn’t attracted an enthusiastic audience. When I checked the television listings this week, Fine Living was giving the “Wandering Golfer” a 3 a.m. tee time.
Golf Channel might consider slotting “Destination Golf” in that obscure time slot, at least until it gives the show a radical makeover.