Golf Channel's biggest slice yet


NEW YORK -- When the PGA Tour's new TV network deals were announced a year ago, NBC and CBS each signed on for six-year terms. The Golf Channel locked up its rights for an unheard-of 15 years, knocking out its cable rivals and cementing its status as golf's TV home.

The deal represents quite a coup for the Comcast Corp.-owned channel. It has come a long way from 1995, when it was co-founded by legendary golfer Arnold Palmer. The Golf Channel is now in 75 million homes following a recent DirecTV deal that places it on the distributor's basic tier.

"We thought: 'Doesn't it make sense to look at this, rather than as a transactional relationship, as a much more integrated partnership between two companies (the PGA and TGC) whose missions are really the same? What more we can do to help the game of golf?' " Golf Channel CEO David Manougian says.

In the new agreement, TGC will televise the first three FedEx Cup season events -- the Mercedes-Benz Championship and Sony Open in Hawaii and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in the Palm Springs area -- as well as the Fall Series, the handful of tournaments that follows the new Championship Series events that crown the PGA Tour champion.

The end-of-season autumn events traditionally have been ignored by even the most ardent golf fans, with most of the star players sitting out after the PGA Championship, the fourth and final major tournament on the calendar. Manougian acknowledges that the Fall Series might not have the excitement of a major, but it does have appeal. For one, golfers participating here are fighting to secure their PGA Tour playing card for next season.

"Is the fall season as a whole ... going to be as exciting as the last six or seven events of the regular season leading up to the Tour championship?" he asks. "No, but that doesn't mean they're not popular and people won't watch them."

TGC will also televise the weekday rounds of virtually all the PGA Tour events this season and a number of LPGA events, serve as the exclusive cable home of the Champions Tour (for players 50 or older) and air 14 Nationwide Tour events (for players looking to break into or return to the big-league PGA Tour).

"All throughout our history, we've had these nice milestones where we've looked at an opportunity where the time is right to grab on to that opportunity," Manougian says. "This was the next big opportunity, and it aligned quite nicely. We think it's the next significant step for the Golf Channel."

Another first for the network: It's employing Kelly Tilghman as the play-by-play announcer for its PGA Tour telecasts, the first time a woman has filled that role on a television broadcast. "We think that's way long overdue," Manougian says.

Tilghman (a 6 handicap, according to the TGC Web site) will be paired with analyst Nick Faldo. Joining them on the telecasts are, among others, Rocco Mediate, Peter Oosterhuis, Dottie Pepper, Rich Lerner and Mark Rolfing.

Manougian is especially pleased that Faldo, who's also with CBS this year, is on his team. "Nick has this wonderful sense of humor, this wonderful demeanor that we think is wonderful for the way we want to market this product," he says.

TGC also is planning a whole new range of on-air technical innovations, including a mathematical-based use of statistics called the Win Zone that will calculate at any given time during a tournament the percentage that any player has of winning. It will take into account the golf course as well as players' performance under pressure and aims to get viewers involved as never before.

"We think it's going to be really cool and a real novel approach that golfers have never seen," Manougian says.

Following the return of "The Big Break" -- the network's skills-based reality show that is consistently the highest-rated original series on the channel -- TGC will debut the so-called "Golf Inventor Show," though it's not yet on the schedule. It will solicit inventors' best training aids or other golf products, which will be evaluated by players, investors and pros during a 13-week TV season until the winner is picked and the product appears at retail.