Nothing golden about the BBC team of golfing oldies
The Thursday column
I have this glorious image in my mind of this week’s BBC Sport senior management team debrief and, more specifically, the moment when, having basked in the warm glow that will have been generated by their coverage of the World Athletics Championships, someone says: “Okay, let’s move on now. What about the golf?”
At that point, one presumes or at least fervently hopes, the temperature in the room will have plummeted by 20C and those responsible for the screening of the USPGA Championship will have started looking down at their shoes while the athletics executives, wearing expressions of smug malice, leant forward and stared at them.
Their sense of self-satisfaction would not be entirely justified by any means.
Visually the Beeb’s output from the London Stadium was outstanding but the tone was too Britcentric for my liking, although I’m happy to acknowledge that most viewers love that sort of thing, hence those responsible for the coverage are bound still to be puffing out their chests.
However, the golf coverage was, in sharp contrast, almost entirely abysmal. The world is so full of genuine horrors that nobody should get too wound up by the fact a golf tournament was given terrible televisual treatment but in the context of current broadcasting standards it was desperate.
Before sifting through the dismal details, here’s some background on why the newly-launched Sky Sports Golf channel was churning out documentaries about Bernhard Langer and such like all week while the fourth Major of the year was being shown in stunning low definition behind the red button on the BBC.
Sky and the USPGA could not agree a deal for the pictures, leaving the rights holder to try to find another broadcaster. However, only the BBC was prepared to commit to covering the event, and with the athletics already dominating its schedules, this fine competition was relegated to red-button status for all but the latter hours of the latter rounds.
So instead of the luxury treatment Sky gives golf, viewers had to endure the 20-second wait for a press of the red button to give you what you want, plus the fundamental twofold problem of red-button viewing: first, that you cannot flick from channel to channel; and second, that there are no HD pictures in this televisual hinterland.
Instead, we were transported back to the 1990s, when every image was blurred and details were hard to pick out, the difference being that back then we swallowed it because we knew no different. This was like watching Lego models playing golf.
The retro feel to the transmissions was complemented perfectly by the commentary team, four fossils who sounded like they were broadcasting from an old people’s home.
While the 11th-hour agreement of the rights must have created some logistical challenges for which some slack can be cut, there is no excuse for the commentators to be so dull, so pedestrian, and so shockingly devoid of basic knowledge, awareness and enthusiasm.
I exonerate Rishi Persad, whose interviews were fine (of which more in a moment), and the commendably energetic presenter Eilidh Barbour, but the quartet calling the action came up woefully short.
The most disappointing aspect of this was that Ken Brown, for so long the saving grace of BBC golf, suddenly sounded just like the others.
He was a shadow of the effervescent beanpole who can usually be relied upon to brighten up proceedings by popping up on a particular green and dropping a ball to show us just how slopey and fast the dancefloors are, or giving the commentary a lift when his colleagues are nodding off.
Instead he seemed unable to raise a tempo that was dragged to mumbling pace by Mark James, Maureen Madill and, of course, Peter Alliss. So the soundtrack to the low-grade images of what seemed to be a terrific tournament was a series of dull, obvious recitals of what the captions were already telling us.
Or worse still, a botched attempt to recite what the captions were telling us, particularly as the action reached its climax, whereupon the commentators increasingly resembled a car full of pensioners left utterly disorientated because the relevant page of the RAC road atlas was missing and none of the passengers knew how to work that satnav thingy.
Here’s just a flavour of the chaos: “He’s got a putt here at the sixth, which looks just like the eighth. Oh, it is the eighth.” Close.
“Nice shot from Fowler to set up a birdie chance at 18.” Actually that was his third shot, as per the caption, but never mind.
“Is this Matsuyama’s second shot or his third?” You tell us.
“There’s a big roar from somewhere on the course and he won’t know what’s happened.” Actually, unlike you, yes he will because the roar came from the spectators at the hole he is playing after his partner rolled in a long putt.
And so it went on.
If I wasn’t as interested in majors and hadn’t had such a significant financial interest in the outcome I would probably have found it all quite funny as the relationship between what we were seeing and what we were hearing gradually disintegrated, but instead it started off mildly annoying and by the end I had to plead with my wife to handcuff me so I couldn’t fling a brick through the telly in sheer exasperation.
Why does the BBC think it is fine to foist Alliss and his decrepit chums on licence payers? Why was there no attempt to inject some youth and relevance into the commentary team? Since when has it been so acceptable to know so little about well-established players like the new champion Justin Thomas?
It was not the corporation’s fault that the torpor of the final day was not helped by an unnecessarily bolshy interview with Ian Poulter, who reacted like a brat to a perfectly valid first question by Persad, but otherwise this was a broadcast to make those of us old enough to remember the Beeb in its prime wince.
The BBC’s sport portfolio is vastly reduced these days but it is still capable of producing world-class coverage, so it was deeply disappointing to see it fail so badly in this instance.
At least nobody will ever again take Sky’s golf service for granted. Oh for a Wayne Riley bringing life to the coverage from the fairways, or for a Butch Harmon dispensing relevant wisdom with a wit and style that was so chronically absent at Quail Hollow.
It is hoped the USPGA acknowledges the thoughts of viewers who used social-media channels to make their opinions of the quality of the coverage known in no uncertain terms and that in future they will realise there is only one show in town and do a sensible deal with Sky.
Golf’s popularity is declining sharply. In America it was revealed recently that sales of equipment have fallen by around 25 per cent year on year, while in Britain a significant number of people have given up the game, often to take up cycling instead.
That is a big problem for the golf industry, and the sport is not going to have a hope of captivating a younger audience if it continues to allow itself to be covered as appallingly as it was in the 2017 USPGA Championship.
No sympathy for turncoat referees
The first thing to say about the first full weekend of the new football season is that nothing like enough has been made of the astonishing coincidence that Tottenham’s replacement at right-back for Kyle Walker is Kyle Walker-Peters.
I can still barely comprehend it and yet loads of people have just nonchalantly absorbed the information as if the new guy is called Ryan Jones or something.
Beyond that, it is depressing that kit clashes are still being allowed so commonly, the worst example being Barcelona wearing blue and red against Real Madrid, who wore an aqua-blue number. If only Real had a white kit they could have gone with just this once.
The main conclusion from the weekend, though, was that referees can now stick my sympathy where the sun doesn’t shine.
After decades of unwavering support and understanding from this column over the difficulties our officials face it is time to let them fight their own battles, for the simple reason that I am sick and tired of defending a group of men plenty of whom then go on to slag off their own peers for money the moment they retire from officiating in the Premier League.
The latest turncoat is Mark Clattenburg, a superb referee but a less superb character based on his willingness to take the BT pound and sit in fully-equipped retrospective judgement of the men he called colleagues just a few months ago.
He should know better than anyone how hard refereeing is but, like Messrs Winter, Poll, Halsey and Webb before him, he showed no mercy as, blessed with the channel’s full array of hi-tech replay apparatus, he pointed out errors with gay abandon in his surprisingly high-pitched north-east accent, like an extra from Billy Elliot.
And he even managed to get things wrong that the ref, with his split-second demand for an instant decision got right, such as the handball by Gabriel Jesus which Clattenburg claimed was not deliberate when it clearly was.
I can excuse Dermot Gallagher’s arbiter analysis because he is always at pains to stress how difficult the job and tends to focus on explaining why a referee might have made a particular decision even if it was proven to be incorrect.
But otherwise I find it repulsive that men who have taken years of brutal abuse from fans, players, managers and the media should then commit such an appalling act of betrayal by joining in the moronic, pointless bashing of the current crop of refs.