Watching golf on TV is about courses, not just players

We are creatures of habit. We are more comfortable with the familiar.

And if the familiar has faded into the sunset of days past, we crave nostalgia. We want to relive those memories.

That’s why PGA Tour Champions was created. It’s why baseball has old-timers’ games.

When someone attempts to test the status quo and start a rival league, it’s not a given that fans will jump over to it. For every American Football League, there’s an Alliance of American Football (AAF). And when an athlete signs with that new league, it’s not a given that we will watch.

The USFL signed some big-name players back in the 1980s, but we didn’t really pay much attention to Herschel Walker and Steve Young until the USFL folded and they joined the older, established NFL. We knew that they were in the USFL and we might have watched them play a time or two, but we weren’t invested in spring football in the same way.

That’s why I look so skeptically at the proposed Super Golf League, backed by interests in Saudi Arabia. (Read Golf Digest’s latest report on it here.)

Phil Mickelson’s semblance of recruiting for the new league also had Golf Digest suggesting he might be suspended by the PGA Tour if he hasn’t been already.

Supposedly, some of the best players in the world are going to play in the SGL, with adoring fans from all over the world watching. We love these guys so much, the thinking goes, we’ll follow them wherever they tee it up.


I can only judge from my own viewing habits, but here’s why I think this is misguided.

I’m a golf nut. I’ll watch it anytime, anyplace, for hours at a time. It is mesmerizing.

That’s especially true when it’s the big boys on the PGA Tour, guys I’ve watched so many times I can identify them without the television graphics – the same guys who would be playing in the Super Golf League.

But the lure is not just the players. It’s the courses.

This week, I couldn’t get enough of watching them deal with iconic Riviera.

Last week, I wanted to see every shot I could at fun-and-sporty TPC Scottsdale. I flipped back and forth between the playoff and the start of the Super Bowl until Scottie Scheffler finally won.

The week before, I was glued to the TV as the pros traversed majestic Pebble Beach.

And so it goes. Course after course.

If you’re a true fan, you can name your favorite holes on every layout and envision what it’s like to play them.

Maybe you’ve even played them yourself.

But that all goes away when the pros play in those exotic events halfway across the world on courses other than the wonderful old links layouts in the British Isles.. It’s as if they’re invisible.

I might notice who won. Maybe. But I rarely watch more than a hole or two, even if every big name is there. I just don’t care that much. They might as well be playing a different game.

The reason is simple: I don’t know the course. It would be like the Boston Red Sox playing their home games in an antiseptic, symmetrical, boring stadium rather than Fenway Park.

Even if the Super Golf League were to play some tournaments in the United States, as it proposes to do, it’s hard to imagine that it could land at venerable courses along the lines of Pebble Beach and Riviera.

More likely, it would be played on upstarts. Another Golf Digest report said that officials from former President Donald Trump’s properties were in talks to be a host.

And even if the SGL did swing a deal with an old, treasured course, do we want to watch the same guys week after week? Part of the magic of the PGA Tour is that new names keep popping up. We’re on a run of first-time winners at the moment. It’s fun.

The idea of a new golf tour is nothing new. It has been floated for decades, since Greg Norman first started pushing for it. That’s why the World Golf Championships exist today. But they’re under the auspices of the PGA Tour.

That’s the important difference with this proposal: It’s designed to break away from the Tour and compete with it.

Maybe Mickelson is right – the pros are simply using the Saudis to gain more leverage with the PGA Tour. Maybe this is just a power play. Maybe Collin Morakawa, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau declaring their allegiance to the PGA Tour is enough to torpedo this idea.

But if other top pros go through with this now or in the future, the reverberations will be felt all the way to your TV. This could decimate our great game for the sake of a money grab.

The defectors almost certainly would be suspended or even banned for life from the Tour, as Golf Digest suggested. Most tournaments of any stature, and especially the majors, wouldn’t be the same.

I don’t know how anyone could blame the Tour for reacting harshly. If you owned a company, would you let one of your employees start a rival business? Of course not.

If the SGL doesn’t make it, the players could be left without a place to make money. And if it does succeed, can they make enough in about a dozen events – the proposed SGL number – to pay their bills?

It comes down to this for me, as a golf fan: I am not more inclined to watch a tournament just because the purse is bigger. And I am a creature of habit. I like what I have. I have built a lot of great memories while watching the Tour. I would bet that a lot of golf fans feel the same way.

The pros should think about that as they make what could be a life-altering decision.

They don’t want to go the way of boxing and split off into multiple governing commissions.

They don’t want to go the way of Major League Baseball and subject us to endless labor disputes.

They don’t want to go the way of the AAF.

But there’s an upside to watching them less: We could play more — on the courses we love, and maybe the same courses the pros play.

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