After several years of quietly cutting back her broadcasting duties, Kelly Tilghman has decided to wrap up her career at Golf Channel this Sunday. The Orlando resident and good friend of the late Arnold Palmer is choosing Bay Hill as her swan song from the Orlando-based network.
The Forecaddie sat down with Tilghman after she finished her Wednesday Golf Central duties at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, just days before what expects to be an emotional goodbye.
“Happy, sad,” said the 22-year veteran of the channel where she started in the tape department.
One of the channel’s most recognizable stars leaves Mike Ritz and Rich Lerner as the last remaining on-air presences from the network’s formative years. Tilghman’s career, that has included a wide variety of duties at the channel, was long supported by Tiger Woods and Palmer, who asked Tilghman to caddie for him in the Masters Par-3 Contest three times.
In a statement, Golf Channel praised Tilghman’s place in the network’s rise and in making golf history.
“She has been a trailblazer for female broadcasters, highlighted by her work as the first female play-by-play host for the PGA Tour,” the statement said. “We wish her well as she transitions to her next chapter and thank her for her immeasurable contributions and professionalism.”
The Man Out Front believes her departure culminates several years of reduced presence on air and newfound priorities in her life. Tilghman called the last few years a “weening” culminating in her decision to say goodbye to the Golf Channel, but not broadcasting.
“This process was very peaceful for me,” she said, fighting back tears at the mention of names who were important to her hiring and development as a broadcaster. “I can’t imagine a scenario where I would never be on television again.”
Golf Channel threw a Tuesday-night party for Tilghman and colleagues, including many of the longtime technicians who have worked with her behind the scenes. Several pre-recorded and FaceTime cameos were shown, including one by Woods and multiple appearances by ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, a former Golf Channel anchor. It was Van Pelt who was instrumental in getting Tilghman hired and provided comic relief for a crowd sensing the emotional undercurrents of saying goodbye to a longtime colleague.
“She made me cry,” said Peter Jacobsen, who said Tilghman brought the house down with a speech naming all of the people instrumental in her career and in celebrating the game they all love.
As for why she chose this week, Tilghman summed up her thinking in an online column.
“It’s the perfect spot for so many obvious reasons. Arnold’s family will be there. My Golf Channel and NBC family will be there. I know you will too, like you always have. I’ll forever cherish the memories we’ve built together.”