I am an admitted golf fan during certain months of the year. In the spring, usually just after Easter, the true golf season gets going with The Masters in Augusta, Georgia. Prior to that there are a few tournaments in Hawaii and on the west coast but nothing that is all that interesting. From The Masters all the way through the FedEx Cup (August and September) the golf season is interesting to me. Unfortunately, after the final FedEx Cup stop in Atlanta there is very little reason to watch the PGA Tour. This has become apparent as the PGA Tour has changed the points system for the FedEx Cup. It is now the case that PGA Tour players can earn FedEx Cup points for the next season after the final round in August. This means some of those tournaments in October, November and early December will be a little more interesting. The question is, “will sports fans watch golf in the fall and winter?”
Football Trumps Golf
During the FedEx Cup Playoffs most sports fans are enamored with the NFL and College Football on the weekends. I am one of the biggest golf fans there is and I still have no desire to watch the FedEx Cup Playoffs unless Tiger Woods is making a run or one of my favorite golfers is on the leaderboard. In 2013 that was not the case. During the month of September I might have watched a total of two hours of golf. When a major tournament is being played I will watch about 25 hours over the course of four days. Most sports experts have accepted that Tiger Woods moves the meter but it is even more important during the fall and winter months.
As the football season starts to get into the heart of the action in November and December it will be the case that golf goes to the back burner. Tiger Woods hosts a tournament in early December every year but other than that particular tournament most golf events have very low ratings. Tiger tends to take a few weeks off and he will play some golf overseas. The problem with Tiger playing golf on the other side of the world is the time difference. When I was a diehard golf fan I would DVR some of Tiger’s golf rounds in Malaysia and Australia but now that he is back to normal I don’t watch them as much. One of the most unique viewing experiences for golf fans was watching Tiger Woods play like a human being. He would shoot rounds in the high 70s and he would even miss cuts. His temper got the best of him at times. This is something most people that play golf know all about.
When Tiger was going through his ups and downs of putting his game back together golf got some huge ratings just because fans wanted to see what was going to happen next. Now, if Tiger is not in the final pairing or on the leaderboard most people just tune in to football or another sport. It will be interesting to see how the PGA Tour fights this battle in the fall and winter months. Even though Tiger is back to his old self he still has not won a major tournament. It will be five years next year. While some feel as if it is good to see other names win big tournaments the ratings prove this is not the best for viewership.
The best thing for viewership is Tiger Woods vs Phil Mickelson. While Phil won the Open Championship in 2013 Tiger was unable to get that next major. If several more majors go by and Tiger is not in the final pairing the PGA Tour is going to see a drop in ratings. Some have made the argument that the younger golfers will bring more fans but this simply has not happened. Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy are popular but they don’t hold a candle to Tiger Woods. Rory went to Nike in 2013 and, unfortunately, had a very bad year. Even when he was winning major tournaments we did not see huge ratings during those tournaments. When Tiger is winning tournaments we always see very large numbers.
The Ryder Cup last year was one of the best in recent memory and helped golf get some great ratings during the fall months. The President’s Cup this year may help a little bit but it is a competition that is often dominated by the United States. If the US gets out to a big lead in the first few days fans will go back to watching College Football and the NFL. This has been true in the past as golf is not as interesting when there is not a major tournament on the line. It is very similar to tennis in that most passive fans do not want to watch if it is not a major tournament.
Golf is a Summer Activity
Part of the reason golf is so popular to watch during the spring and summer months is people are actually playing golf at those times. I can remember picking up golf several years ago and finding out quickly that people would start playing golf just after Easter. They would get five or six rounds in during the summer and they would be done. Every now and again they would play a round in the fall but this was only if some of their buddies were hitting the links. In the golf states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia golfers have to worry about leaves. If you have every played a golf course that is lined with trees you know leaves can become a huge issue. Unless you are a scratch golfer you are probably going to hit some wayward shots. There is nothing more demoralizing than hitting a shot just off the fairway and not being able to find it because there are so many leaves on the ground. This caused me to stop playing in the fall altogether. That has since changed but when I was not a good ball striker I had no desire to fight a losing battle.
With fewer people playing golf in the fall and winter they have little desire to turn it on the television. We love to watch things that we can relate to. It we haven’t swung a club in two months there is a high likelihood that we are not going to be excited to watch professionals shoot rounds under par. Unless Tiger is in a tournament in the late part of the year the ratings are almost zero. The Golf Channel does everything in their power to keep people interested with shows like the Big Break but oftentimes that doesn’t help. The only way to keep golf fans interested is to engage them in a way that makes them want to watch golf. Unfortunately, that is not very easy during the off season because most professional golfers have no desire to play in the cold weather.
What Can the PGA Tour Do?
I think it was smart for the PGA Tour to award FedEx Cup points for next season during the fall and winter months. This will entice many professionals to play rounds in which they would not have in the past. It may even encourage Tiger Woods to play on some courses in which people normally do not see him. This is one of the biggest issues when it comes to the PGA Tour. Golfers fall in love with specific courses. They end up playing 18 to 22 tournaments a year but they rarely visit courses where they are not comfortable. If you live in Wisconsin you will get to see Steve Stricker play but you won’t get to see Tiger Woods until there is a major tournament in your state. This might be once every decade.
From a personal perspective, I completely understand why golfers do not want to use certain courses. There are many courses in my local area that I have played once and I will never play again. All golfers have a particular shot shape that fits their eye. If you hit a power fade and you are play a course that requires a draw it can ruin your entire round. Tiger Woods hits a power fade off the tee but if you ask him to hit a draw with the driver it can cause huge problems. This is why Tiger has won some tournaments eight or nine times and he has never played other tournaments.
The PGA Tour will never force golfers to play a specific course but it might be a good idea to switch things up during the fall and winter months. Maybe try to get Phil or Rickie to play some of the courses in which they do not normally play. This could increase ratings and it could end up helping the PGA Tour in the long run.