Golf Channel eager for opportunity to again televise NCAA Championships

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Golf Channel eager for opportunity to again televise NCAA Championships

College

Golf Channel eager for opportunity to again televise NCAA Championships

It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday when I reach Golf Channel’s Steve Burkowski in Indiana, where he’s covering a Web.com Tournament, and still three weeks until the first shot is struck in the NCAA Division I Golf Championships. The women’s tournament starts May 18, with the men following a week later.

“I’m pumped just talking about it,” Burkowski said as he fired off story lines he expects to play out over two weeks in Stillwater, Okla.

Those include the difficulty of Karsten Creek Golf Club, the potential for the consensus No. 1 Oklahoma State Cowboys to win the men’s title on their home course and the cluster of a half dozen women’s teams that seem likely to be in the mix in Stillwater.

“Someone is going to pop up and stir the pot,” Burkowski said of the women’s contenders. “I’m keeping my eye on Alabama.”

This will be the fourth consecutive year Golf Channel has covered the women’s and men’s championships, now held at the same venue to make it economical for TV.

“Before this, we were toiling in complete anonymity,” said Bruce Heppler, Georgia Tech’s men’s coach. “So I think it’s been terrific for the game, the kids, the program, college golf.”

The impact of television on the college game has been palpable. It’s often said that TV drives sports, but that’s especially true in college golf, where the venue, format, dates, even the tee times are affected by the need to accommodate Golf Channel.

“Those iconic venues with 18 holes, they’re pretty much off the table now, which is tough to take,” Heppler said.

But he’s also a realist. Few clubs are going to turn over their courses to the NCAA for at least two weeks. And the cost of going to separate venues is a nonstarter for Golf Channel.

Starting in 2020, Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., will begin a three-year run as host venue, with speculation that arrangement will become permanent.

“You hate to say it, but how many people were standing in line to do that?” Heppler said. “It takes a lot of money (to produce golf). It’s not like you throw some cameras on a softball field or a volleyball court. It’s as expensive a production as you can have.”

Baylor coach Mike McGraw notes that it was 11 years ago that Golf Channel suggested a team match-play format might make the NCAAs a viable TV product.

“If it was just stroke play for the individual and five-count-four every day for the teams, it’s a lot for the viewer to digest,” said Brandt Packer, who will produce Golf Channel’s coverage.

The current format – individual stroke play followed by team match play – certainly is easier for TV viewers to grasp. And it fuels natural collegiate rivalries.

“If Auburn and Alabama make match play, or Oklahoma and Oklahoma State or Texas and Texas A&M, oh my gosh,” McGraw said. “(Viewers) understand a bracket and head to head. At first because of my traditional, old-fashioned brain, I questioned it. But now I like it.”

One gripe among coaches, including Heppler: Pairings are adjusted on the last day of stroke play so that Golf Channel can showcase seventh, eighth and ninth seeds in the race for the top eight match-play berths.

“I just don’t think you alter tee times for TV,” Heppler said.

But Golf Channel understandably wants that drama. Also, Packer doesn’t see what the fuss is about.

“You’re talking about an hour’s difference (in tee times),” Packer said. “And you’re talking about 10 groups, not 30 groups. For us, I don’t see that argument.”

One match-play scenario was on my mind when I called Burkowski, and he was thinking the same thing. Will “Bedlam” come to college golf?

No. 3 Oklahoma upset Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. Imagine the atmosphere if they face one another in late May in Stillwater.

“Think about what that rivalry means to all of college sports,” Burkowski said. “How about if those two teams battle for the whole thing? I don’t think you can script anything better than that.” Gwk

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