Televised Golf and the Creation of Narrative

Article excerpt

Basically in football, if you follow the ball, or in baseball if you follow the runner and the ball, or in basketball if you follow the ball, you're not going to get into trouble. In golf, you have up to 20 balls in play at one time, all of which have to be covered well. Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports (Schiesel)

Televised golf is among the more dynamic sporting events currently on television. In comparison to "arena sports" such as football, baseball, hockey and basketball, golf is difficult to convey due to its natural unsuitability to a typical television production that is associated with arena sports. The arena sports possess the natural boundaries of their very edifices, and the ball involved in arena sports cannot stray too far from the field of play. Golf, however, is unpredictable and therefore difficult to produce via the sport's natural inclination toward the unknown whereabouts of the ball. Even the best golfers in the world very often produce shots that are flummoxing not only to themselves but also to the television production crew striving to convey their action.

Perhaps more importantly, televised golf constructs a fractured narrative. While a televised football game follows the more or less linear narrative of two opposing teams playing four quarters for roughly 3 hours resulting in a winner, golf faces the challenge of depicting 100 or more individual narratives, each composed of fractured segments (individual shots) that are assembled in highlight fashion taking place over four days. Commentators, graphics, framing schemata and editing are among the conventions deployed by television producers of golf.

In this paper, I would like to illuminate the unique concerns of televised golf production, their historical bases and speculate on how golf's mode of production influences its reception by a viewer. Scholars and critics alike have considered the aesthetics of televised sports, but very seldom specifically golf. Much has been written of televised American football, with preeminence given to the Super Bowl. This scholarship deals as much with the economics and surrounding Super Bowl coverage as it does with the visual style and mode of production of the event. Given this gap in the literature, I will try to identify and outline a critique of televised golf's visual style and how the producers attempt to construct narrative from a series of disjointed and fragmented segments. As a text, I will examine the 2003 Funai Classic tournament from Walt Disney World. This tournament is of particular interest because it is played on two courses simultaneously and has the added ratings benefit of Tiger Woods as a participant. Additionally, the coverage analyzed is from a two-hour segment of the opening round that aired on ESPN (23 October 2003). Of note is that the tournament is covered jointly by ESPN (Thursday and Friday) and ABC (Saturday and Sunday), both of which are owned by the Walt Disney Corp., and the tournament is played on-site at Walt Disney World.

History

The earliest sports to be deemed television worthy were those that accommodated the production style and technology of the time, and therefore golf was not immediately feasible. For example, the most televised sports of television's early period were boxing and wrestling (Owen). Both sports occurred indoors and therefore lighting conditions were easily controlled. Further and more significant regarding golf, both boxing and wrestling occur in a ring, and the participants (for the most part) do not leave its confines, therefore camera movement is left to a minimum. Sports such as boxing and wrestling are also arena sports, and arena sports have natural inclinations for producers. The sporting space is limited and lighting conditions can be managed. Further, because camera movement was prohibitive due to the camera's size in television's infancy, arena sports with defined spaces were preferred. However, producers realized that any event that had a builtin audience, i. …