Insider: A different kind of TV this weekend in Boise

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The Golf Channel's Jerry Foltz is part of a radical approach taken by the network for Round 3 of the Albertsons Boise Open.
September 15, 2010
John Dell, Nationwide Tour Insider

For those who watch golf and are frustrated by the way the announcers ramble on, Golf Channel will offer an alternative this weekend.

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During the third round of the Nationwide Tour's Albertsons Boise Open presented by Kraft, there won't be the traditional host-broadcaster and an analyst. Instead, there will be plenty of golf action with most of the sounds coming from the caddies and the players.

It's an approach that hasn't been tried in golf, but maybe there will finally be enough silence where the caddie-player conversations won't be interrupted. More on-course microphones will be utilized, and there's a chance one player wearing a microphone during play.

Keith Hirshland, 54, who has been a producer at Golf Channel since it's inception in 1994, is in charge of the experiment and admits to being a little nervous. The biggest difference, he says, is that viewers hear more from the actual participants.

"The sound will be coming mostly from the players and caddies," said Hirshland, who produces about 25 to 30 tournaments a year for the network. "Originally, we kind of thought about having Jerry Foltz come on and say here's the third round and then for the next two and half hours just air the golf without any announcers at all.

"But then it just kind of morphed into what we have now."

Golf Channel has plans to make the broadcast utilize social networks like Twitter for viewers to ask questions. Foltz and analyst Curt Byrum will interact more with viewers who send in their questions and they will limit their comments on the play-by-play of the golf.

"Fans can go to Golfchannel.com, PGATOUR.COM and we'll be on Twitter and Facebook so we thought it would be a great for fans to interact with Jerry and Curt while the broadcast is going on," Hirshland said. "The idea is to kind of have them sitting and watching the telecast and answering questions from viewers."

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Plans also call for on-course reporters Kay Cockerill and Stephanie Sparks, who usually follow particular groups, to set up at interview stations at the par-3 13th hole and the par-4 15th which players can drive with a good tee shot. There's a likelihood of some delays on the 15th as players will try to drive the green.

Also, Phil Parkin will interview players after their rounds, but instead of giving the broadcast back to the booth play will just continue.

Foltz said he's looking forward to the different type of broadcast, and is trying to familiarize himself with Twitter and the entire social network scene a little more.

"I don't use Twitter that much, but it's going to be a lot of fun and I think it's going to attract some attention," Foltz said. "It takes a lot of guts to do this, because I'm sure there will be some who don't like it."

Foltz said that one of the best lines about the experiment came from Sparks, who was talking about what this might do for golf announcers and analysts.

"Stephanie said, 'This might do what reality TV did for actors,'" Foltz said.

What Hirshland is most excited about are the possibilities of the caddie-player conversations as they size up various shots. He's frustrated when the on-course microphones start to pick up a conversation between the caddie and the player, then the on-air host or analyst interrupts.

"It's the most aggravating thing in the world," Hirshland said. "It happens every week, and with what we are doing there's no chance of it happening on Saturday."

"It takes a lot of guts to do this, because I'm sure there will be some who don't like it."

-- Jerry Foltz, Golf Channel announcer

Foltz said he prides himself on not talking over the caddie and player conversations because he says it's like being in the huddle of a football game. However, he says he's guilty of interrupting every now and then.

"We get it drilled into our heads all the time that when the caddy and players are talking that we need to shut up, even if it's mid-sentence," Foltz said.

Hirshland says the concept of an announcer-less broadcast is nothing new. He points out that in 1980 Don Ohlmeyer, who was the president of NBC Sports, broadcast a game with no announcers, but it never caught on.

Another aspect that Hirshland is excited about is the chance to put a microphone on a player who is in contention. The only directive from the PGA TOUR's Policy Board is that the player's comments not air live.

"We'll put it in the tape machines and then turn around and air it pretty quickly," Hirshland said.

There will also be enhanced statistical and biographical information added to Saturday's broadcast in the form of graphics. Some of the Twitter questions to Byrum and Foltz will also be shown on screen at certain times.

One of the benefits Golf Channel will have in Boise is one of the best fields on the Nationwide Tour this season. All of the top 25 on the money list are playing and all but three in the top 60 are entered.

The Nationwide Tour has seven tournaments left on the schedule and the push to make into the top 25 is heating up. The top 25 on the list earn PGA TOUR cards for 2011.

"It's a good stretch here on the Nationwide Tour and we think this is a perfect time to try this," Hirshland said. "This could be a very interesting experiment or it could fall flat but it's a chance to try something different."

John Dell has covered golf for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina for the last 17 years. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.

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