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Organized chaos: Behind the scenes of Barstool Sports' live golf broadcast debut at the NV5 Invitational

19 Min Read


Organized chaos: Behind the scenes of Barstool Sports' live golf broadcast debut at the NV5 Invitational

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    GLENVIEW, Ill. – It’s Wednesday afternoon at the Korn Ferry Tour’s NV5 Invitational presented by Old National Bank, and a peek inside the broadcast compound reveals a seemingly typical pre-production meeting – run of show, mixed with off-the-cuff chatter.

    “Danny’s with the 12:12; the boys are with the 12:23.”

    “We might move the guys around.”

    “If it’s good, it’s good.”

    Veteran golf producer Brandt Packer talks the assembled team through the next day’s featured group plans, a top-of-show whiparound to the four on-course reporters, brand integration for WHOOP data, and other seemingly standard fare.

    Then the show’s lead analyst, Sam “Riggs” Bozoian of Barstool Sports’ Fore Play golf brand, glances to his right. Riggs gazes across an eclectic mix of PGA TOUR Entertainment and Barstool Sports staffers – co-producing four-day competition coverage of the NV5 Invitational at The Glen Club in Chicagoland – and he locks eyes on Francis Ellis, a stand-up comedian and Barstool regular who was originally penciled as the third member of the 18th hole tower, alongside Riggs and play-by-play man Jake Marsh.

    The key word there: Penciled.

    “You’re a better roamer,” Riggs tells Ellis.

    After quick chatter, the group agrees. Ellis will become an on-course reporter, swapping roles with Kirk Minihane, a longtime Boston-area sports radio personality who now hosts Barstool’s Kirk Minihane Show. He lives and breathes golf – he can readily inform you of Fred Couples’ most recent result on PGA TOUR Champions – and co-hosts a golf gambling show with Riggs.

    Minihane was first slotted for an on-course role, but the production meeting’s chatter sparked a vision in Riggs’ mind. It’s the Barstool way, really. On the fly, unscripted. See where it goes.

    “We might move the guys around,” sells it short.

    Aside from Marsh, none of these guys have worked in live sports broadcasting, but their day jobs have uniquely prepared them for this role. Fore Play is described by Riggs as “the alternative golf media brand by the average golfer,” with its core twice-weekly podcast supplemented by a burgeoning YouTube channel. On any given week, the Fore Play crew – rounded out by Frankie Borrelli, Trent Ryan and Dan Rapaport (all three joining Ellis as on-course reporters this week) – might be in Myrtle Beach for their travel series one day, then to a municipal track to document Ryan’s quest to break 90, then to meet with a world top-10 player for a Fore Man Scramble.

    Where the wind takes this crew is anyone’s guess. This week, it’s to the Korn Ferry Tour, for Barstool Sports’ first live broadcast of a professional golf event.

    “I was actually the last person to sign off on it, because we had never broadcasted golf before,” Riggs said on the eve of Round 1, overlooking the pro-am action at The Glen Club. “It’s different than a podcast, where we BS about God-knows what, or stupid YouTube videos where we film ourselves playing golf, instead of putting on a broadcast that does justice to these guys trying to play for their livelihood, and making it more entertaining.

    “I wasn’t sure we could actually do it, but we met with more people, got (Brandt) Packer on board, and Pete (Overmyer), our behind-the-scenes guy, he was pretty confident. So we said, ‘Screw it, let’s do it.’”

    Four days later, Korn Ferry Tour veteran Patrick Fishburn has reached the 72nd hole, two strokes off the lead. He faces a downhill 35-foot eagle try that he likely needs to force a playoff. Minihane is watching from the broadcast tower adjacent to the fairway, some 100 yards from the green.

    “He’s gonna make this,” Minihane says, a remark met with some skepticism by his booth partners.

    Fishburn drains the putt, ultimately forcing sudden-death overtime with Korn Ferry Tour conditional member Trace Crowe at 25 under. Barstool’s first live broadcast of professional golf isn’t quite done yet. Riggs needs to depart around 7:30 p.m. to catch a flight – he’s headed to a Barstool Classic golf event the next day – but there’s still time for a few playoff holes if needed.

    The show continues.

    PGATOUR.COM spent the NV5 Invitational behind-the-scenes as the Fore Play crew descended upon The Glen Club for four days of live competition coverage, three hours each day, streaming live on barstool.tv. Here’s a day-by-day look at how the production unfolded.

    Thursday: The booth

    Second-year Korn Ferry Tour member Logan McAllister is an avid Barstool fan who broke from lunch to say hello to the brand’s Dan “Big Cat” Katz, and McAllister happily obliges a request to visit the booth after an opening-round 65. The University of Oklahoma alum has found his element, discussing a competition with fellow pro Quade Cummins on Tuesday night, seeing how many pieces of bread they could consume at Chicago’s famed Lou Malnati’s. McAllister took down 36 pieces, and he admits he was still feeling it the next morning.

    McAllister’s caddie Joe LaCava Jr., sporting a dark blue New York Giants ballcap, looks on. LaCava is reluctant to seek the media spotlight, taking the lead from his dad Joe Sr. – longtime looper for the likes of Fred Couples and Tiger Woods – striving to ensure the player has the stage.

    But the Korn Ferry Tour is different. Exposure is inherently less on the PGA TOUR – the same way the International League would compare to Major League Baseball – and the rising tide lifts all boats. Also, the Barstool guys know LaCava Sr. well, as does Packer. In fact, LaCava Sr. and Couples were following along as the broadcast went live at 2:30 p.m. local time.

    LaCava Jr. is watching McAllister’s interview from the side of the booth, out of frame, alongside stats guru Justin Ray of Twenty First Group, whom Barstool has hired to work the booth for the week. The younger LaCava sees his Apple Watch light up with a message. In a group chat with his dad and Couples, they encourage him to take the guest chair. He obliges. It's this week's vision come to life: a new platform bringing new content opportunities. For LaCava Jr., the booth has become the barstool, as he takes heat about potentially getting a yardage (or two?) wrong in the first round.

    In the few minutes before showtime, the Marsh-Riggs-Minihane triumvirate kept mostly quiet in combing through show notes, but a moment of levity came in the form of an Ellis update, provided through the headset: The comedian-turned-reporter was having trouble with the correct spacing between his microphone and mouth, and the nerves were kicking in. “I thought he was going to steal a golf cart and drive back to New York,” Packer quipped later.

    The booth, though, was ready, fueled by Marsh’s copious preparation – immediately after featured groups were finalized Tuesday, the former University of Vermont men’s basketball play-by-play man got to work, building a notes document on one tab of his laptop, clicking through player profiles to fill the doc. He double-checked name pronunciations with Korn Ferry Tour staffers – think Ricky Castillo pronounced as Cas-ti-lee-oh – and immersed himself in the circuit’s narrative. Marsh would serve as the point guard, throwing it to Riggs and Minihane as well as the on-course team.

    Riggs did his homework as well; early Thursday, he texted a Korn Ferry Tour staffer for a rundown of the status and eligibility implications as the season nears its conclusion. The NV5 Invitational marks the fourth-to-last event of the Regular Season, with the top 156 after the Magnit Championship to advance to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which will feature field reduction each week until 30 TOUR cards are finalized after the Korn Ferry Tour Championship. Riggs felt the magnitude of the week before the lights came on – the Harvard alum, famously unfiltered on the Fore Play podcast, admitted to thoughts of how players’ parents might react to certain commentary. Minihane was on the same wavelength.

    Could the Barstool brand sync with the Korn Ferry Tour product? It was time to see.

    “If we tried to be what CBS does, we’d just be a dumb imitation,” Minihane said Wednesday. “Be conversational, and good golf will get in the way … Now I’m thinking, players’ families are going to watch.”

    “If we tried to be Nantz and Faldo, we would just be a way shittier version,” Riggs concurred. “If we tried to be NBC, we would be an infinitely worse version of that. We’re going to be ourselves, we’re going to try to do what we do, and we’re going to try to package that in the frame of a golf broadcast.”

    The trio offered a mix of colorful banter and discussions with the on-course team, while welcoming booth guests including Korn Ferry Tour points leader Ben Kohles and bucket hat-sporting Joe Highsmith, in addition to McAllister and LaCava. It was free-flowing conversation, but after the show wrapped, Riggs had one audible for the next day, which he relayed in a post-production meeting: Less guests. This would allow the booth chemistry to build through the week.

    “You guys are co-producers,” Packer told them Wednesday. “Fire back with ideas to me.”

    The producer was true to his word.

    Friday: The truck

    It’s 23 minutes into the show, smooth sailing so far, but it’s time for a quick commercial break.

    “Nobody tell a story,” Packer instructs the talent.

    The booth team and on-course reporters are all sporting headsets that serve as cross-communication with the production truck. Packer runs point from the front-left corner, joined in the truck by PGA TOUR LIVE producer Christina Young, Barstool SVP of Technology Pete Overmyer, and three rows of production and graphics staffers. An adjacent room oversees audio. It has the makings of a standard production, but the PGA TOUR/Barstool integration is striking. Five years ago, most staff on-site agree, this sort of partnership would have seemed far away.

    “Fore Play went from being looked at side-eyed, going to tournaments on our own, to they’re out there shaking hands with Tiger Woods,” Overmyer said. “They’ve done a great job of showing themselves to be students of the game, willing to tell those stories, putting in the work getting to know the players. And offering fair criticism where it’s needed.”

    With just six televised events on Golf Channel, one of the Korn Ferry Tour’s central strategic objectives is expanding its coverage offerings. The circuit doesn’t bring the PGA TOUR’s star power; its value lies in its stories: players grinding for their livelihoods, with 30 players at year’s end fulfilling a lifelong dream of earning TOUR membership.

    It’s a dream anyone can relate too, making Barstool an intriguing potential partner.

    “We kind of found our way into this talking about golf like anyone would,” Riggs said. “At a bar or a 19th hole, whether at a private club or a local muni. I think bringing that style, to talk about golf pretty similar to how most people talk about golf, or how most bar settings are watching golf … we’re going to try to bring that.”

    After months of conversations, the news was formally announced on May 9: Barstool Sports would exclusively stream live coverage of the NV5 Invitational. When Packer was approached to gauge interest on producing this type of broadcast, he immediately said yes, not needing any follow-up information. There would be unique challenges in integrating talent who had never previously covered golf, but Packer knew the Fore Play dynamic – avid golf fans who spend a lot of time together playing golf and talking about the game – would lend itself to an entertaining product. Also: they’d have no shortage of discussion topics during the broadcast window.

    “It’s a totally different way of thinking of how to produce,” Packer said. “Normally, Thursday we’re moving fast, all over the course showing leaders, and this is more important to get their personalities out. So if we went out to Dan (Rapaport) with his group, you stay for all three shots, so Dan and the guys in the booth can have more interaction.

    “I got here Tuesday and came right to the golf course, and they (the talent) are all over the golf course.”

    The Fore Play team hadn’t wasted any time in building rapport across the Korn Ferry Tour landscape, and it showed as Friday’s broadcast unfolded. The interplay with the truck was natural as well. Shortly after the instructions not to tell a story – to ensure a seamless break to commercial – Packer asked if anyone would like to conduct a walk-and-talk shortly thereafter.

    Rapaport pitched a chat with Tom Whitney after the next tee shot on the upcoming par 5 – Packer instructed that the tee shot would be tricky, but the second shot would work. Ellis noted that Rafael Campos had been naturally conversing on “every single shot,” which led to a walk-and-talk shortly thereafter.

    At 3:40 p.m., 70 minutes into the show, Marsh executed a WHOOP integration from the booth; he introduced a graphic of Ryan’s recovery data, then sent it to Ryan for his thoughts: “I shut off the sugar around 7:00.” Marsh then returned for the tagline: “If you’re interested in tracking this data for yourself, go to WHOOP.com,” which elicited cheers inside the truck.

    After all sales obligations had been fulfilled, with the broadcast winding down, the booth team was informed that “bills are paid.” Mission accomplished, with just one final housekeeping matter.

    “No (post-production) meeting,” Packer said, “so check your schedules. Dan Rap with the last group.”

    Saturday: The ground

    Frankie Borrelli and Trent Ryan, two of Fore Play’s core four podcasters alongside Riggs and Rapaport, are neighbors and frequent playing partners – Frankie is one of Trent’s biggest fans in the Breaking 90 series. So as a staffing plan was devised into the NV5 invitational, Borrelli and Ryan made for a logical, if unconventional, pair.

    “There’s something about a duo,” Overmyer said, “that doesn’t necessarily come through when they’re single.”

    The Borrelli-Ryan duo not only survived but thrived into the weekend in Chicagoland – early highlights included stumping Korn Ferry Tour veteran Cody Blick with sports trivia mid-round Thursday.

    “There are six professional sports teams that share the same name,” Borrelli asked Blick. “Can you name them?”

    “Giants,” Blick said, before adding, “There are six of them?” with a look of quasi-disbelief. Borrelli stood to his left, Ryan to his right, each holding their mic up close to his mouth. Blick closed his eyes, deep in thought, before also correctly guessing the Kings.

    “This is the high point of Frankie’s life,” Riggs laughed from the booth.

    The duo reflected on the Blick exchange while enjoying a Saturday lunch in The Glen Club clubhouse, a pre-production meeting of sorts, preparing to call the trio of Chris Gotterup-Thomas Walsh-Jack Maguire.

    “Whenever we get interactions with players, that’s what we’re searching for, good or bad,” Borrelli said of their game plan. “We’re trying to make them look like human beings.”

    Behind the scenes with Barstool Sports' on-course reporters at NV5 Invitational

    Ellis had recovered from his proverbial first-tee jitters Thursday, finding his stride with a series of informative and entertaining interviews – Riggs deemed him Thursday’s MVP, as he even got Chan Kim to chat amidst an over-par opening round – and the excitement built an hour before airtime, as Trace Crowe started fast to take the solo lead. Ellis would be calling the threesome of Crowe, Joe Highsmith and Norman Xiong.

    “I was definitely nervous when we went on for the first time; there’s no margin for error, and you’re very exposed,” said Ellis, heading for a pre-show coffee. “But as the holes wore on, developing that quiet voice on the golf course that we’ve heard so many times, and trying to make that your own, is very fun … there’s something very funny about saying outrageous things in that voice.

    “I also think walking with these players up the fairway and having them not be bothered by you at all is a little like being on a safari and marching with the majestic beasts of the bush. It’s very rare to have access like this, and I feel very privileged. But we also have our job to do.”

    Borrelli and Ryan took the course to do their job, radioing back to command central after noticing Thomas Walsh walk up the fairway after laying up at the short par-4 10th, as Gotterup and Maguire remained on the tee for attempts at driving the green. The show was then thrown to the 10th fairway for a live report, which elicited a booth inquiry.

    “Was one of the guys super slow? Is he pissed off?” Minihane asked.

    “I don’t think so, Kirk,” Ryan replied. “I think he just moves at his own pace.”

    After hitting his tee shot on the par-3 11th, Walsh made his way over to Borrelli and Ryan. He had a question: Has Ryan broke 90 yet? (Unfortunately, he hasn’t.)

    Barstool Sports' Frankie Borrelli and Trent Ryan play trivia with Cody Blick

    The group’s positive energy carried through the day, as did the duo’s developing instincts. They planned to do a walk-and-talk with Gotterup from the 16th fairway to green, but after a substandard wedge shot, they called it off – opting to wait until the par-3 17th tee, where a backup was forming. Borrelli and Ryan took the opportunity to conduct a joint interview with Walsh and Gotterup, but the green cleared after pair of routine questions (allegedly due to Rapaport’s lengthy report from the group behind), and Borrelli was animated as he discussed the timeline with Ryan on their walk up to the green.

    Unbeknownst to the duo at the time, their interactions were being shown real-time on the broadcast.

    “Classic us,” Borrelli said afterward. “Probably just complaining about something I heard in my ear, and talking with my hands and Trent just listening as he always does. That is a very, very HD look into my brain.”

    “We’ve been doing this job together for a long time,” Ryan added, “and when Frankie needs to vent, you just let him vent. If you have him keep it pent-up, he’s going to explode, so you’ve got to let him get it out right away.”

    Potential signs of a budding broadcasting super team, as the news team turned its attention to Sunday’s final round.

    Sunday: The winner

    Highlights | Round 4 | NV5 Invitational | 2023

    Ellis noted on Saturday, pre-coffee, that he wouldn’t want to say anything that could potentially rattle Crowe. The Auburn alum and conditional member was firmly in the mix, after all. Having entered the week at No. 139 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, a potentially life-changing weekend was on tap at The Glen Club.

    “The last thing I would want,” Ellis explained, “would be for Trace to be laughing his head off at a joke I told him three holes back. Chunk a drive, lose the tournament because of how funny I am.”

    Fast forward to Sunday, and Rapaport is reporting on the final pairing of Crowe and Ryan McCormick. It’s a serendipitous one, as Crowe lent McCormick some Titleist 2019 Pro V1 golf balls before the second round – Crowe was on the range warming up when a rules official approached on a search; McCormick began his round with a 2019 Pro V1 but no backups of the same model, and a potential lost ball would mean violating the One Ball Rule and suffering a DQ. Crowe had spare balls on hand, which he lent to McCormick. Crowe then followed an opening-round 66 with scores of 64-63, good for a one-stroke edge over McCormick into Sunday.

    Rapaport broke down this story on the broadcast, setting the stage for a wild final round ahead.

    Crowe suffered a triple bogey on the par-4 second hole Sunday to fall off the pace, flying his second shot well over the green and out of play, forcing a re-play from the same spot. Intuitively, it might seem an on-course interview would be off limits. But Rapaport had something working in his favor – Crowe played a Tuesday practice round alongside Alistair Docherty, a friend of Barstool, and the crew was out for a few holes. Crowe met the team and felt comfortable. So after responding with birdies at 4 and 5, he looked over to Rapaport and gave the all-clear for an on-course conversation.

    It meant some unique real-time insight into the mind of a contender after some adversity.

    “Probably took one club, trying to get a little aggressive,” said Crowe while walking down the sixth fairway. “When it came off, I thought it was going to be money, and it just flew 20 yards long, and just a bad decision, really.”

    Crowe kept the pedal down, posting 25 under and defeating Fishburn with a par on the second extra hole, as Fishburn found a greenside bunker with his second shot, took two to get out and couldn’t convert the par putt.

    Earlier in the weekend, Minihane opined that Crowe had no chance of winning – whether grounded in statistical analysis, or just to chirp, could be up for debate – but there were no hard feelings on Crowe’s end. He recorded a video for Minihane afterward – chirping back – and stopped by the Fore Play’s podcast recording from a fire pit on the clubhouse patio.

    “The inaugural Barstool champion on the Korn Ferry Tour,” Crowe said. “It’s cool. I listened to some of the commentary, and it’s really good. They can bring a lot of juice to this Tour, so I think it would be great if they started doing this a lot more.”

    As Marsh headed for the parking lot, he reflected on his first winner’s call on a golf broadcast: “The Crowe Show!” He expressed appreciation for the team’s efforts throughout the week, an eclectic presentation befitting Barstool’s everyman ethos.

    Earlier in the week, nobody on the ground quite knew what to expect, sentiments that brought back memories of the Korn Ferry Tour’s inaugural event in 1990. “I don’t know what we all expected, but we showed up and we had a winner on Sunday,” remembered longtime Korn Ferry Tour staffer Marty Caffey of that week in Bakersfield, California.

    This week marked another first on the Korn Ferry Tour: Barstool Sports’ first broadcast of live professional golf. Indeed, they showed up, and there was a winner on Sunday.

    “I thought it might be a boring process, just following a group of guys,” Borrelli said, “but this has been way more fun than playing.”

    “Once you get the nerves out of the way, it’s very fun,” Ryan added. “You kind of pick your spots of what to say, and it’s been fun.”

    As for the man who wasn’t sure it could be done, he departed with confidence that it could be done again.

    “We’ll be back,” Riggs said.

    Trace Crowe's interview after winning the NV5 Invitational

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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