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The Skins Game: R.I.P.

IMG, the folks behind The Skins Game, will tell you that the brutal economy and the consequent failure to enlist a title sponsor led to the demise of the annual event, for 26 years a Thanksgiving weekend TV staple. (They will also tell you that Skins is merely "on hiatus." OK, if you say so.)  Certainly, it hasn't helped that in recent years the show has lost some star power, with the last three winners being Fred Funk, Stephen Ames (twice) and, last November, K.J. Choi. Worthies all, but the ratings reflected the lack of luster.But in some respects, The Skins Game is a victim of its own success.Back when it began, in 1983 (right around the time MTV was pioneering the music video), the event boasted several selling points. It had novelty; few non-golfers knew of the concept, which was immensely and instantly appealing. (Its consequent popularity trickled downward, causing millions of us hackers to be skinned alive.) It had the John, Paul, George and Ringo of golf: Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson and Player. It had relatively little competition: Silly-season golf hadn't been born, and weekend football wasn't as wall-to-wall as it is today.However, one thing the Skins did prove was that there was a market--even a healthy appetite--for non-tournament golf. Eventually this begat various Shootouts and Challenges and Battles and Showdowns. More important, we got an entire network, Golf Channel, that had hours and hours to fill, and fill them it did by inventing Big Breaks and telecasting Tavistocks. Many of these shows--slickly edited and quickly paced--made the Skins, with its lengthy breaks in the action, seem downright poky--antiquated, even. Now, stuck amid a cornucopia of football, the Skins struggled to be noticed. Time had passed it by; it was a remnant of another era, like Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf. In television--heck, in anything--26 years is a terrific run. NBC's acclaimed drama ER recently showed its finale and was celebrated for its longevity; at its demise it was 11 years younger than Skins. So as Skins steps off the stage, we salute this golfing grandaddy of 'em all, even as we happily turn our attention to its many descendants.

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by Kevin Cunningham