First-ever airing makes Par-3 contest must-tee TV

Ian Poulter fired a shot in the first Par-3 Tournament on television.
Elise Amendola/AP

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the golf course kids were drowning in oversized white coveralls, pros were deciding which clubs to bring, and Jack, Arnold and Gary were getting ready to tee it up one more time after all these years. Still, Lance Barrow, in his captain's chair and surrounded by the usual panorama of tiny TV monitors, was barking into his headset as if it were Sunday afternoon.

The eight-time Emmy-Award-winning producer has been doing CBS's Masters telecast since 1996. He started at CBS Sports in 1975. There's no TV job he hasn't done, little he hasn't seen. You'd think asking Barrow to handle the first-ever telecast of Wednesday's hits-and-giggles Par-3 Contest, televised on ESPN, would be like asking Paul Bunyan to handle a toy chainsaw.

Not so.

For one thing, as the show's anchor Mike Tirico of ESPN said seconds before air, "Two hours of live TV is still two hours of live TV. It doesn't matter the quality of the game, the size of the venue or who's playing."

What's more, the Par-3 would potentially be even better television than the regular tournament — well, at least the boring parts of the regular tournament. Player reactions are magnified. Every swing offers the potential for a hole-in-one. There are no boring parts to the Par-3.

"The biggest thing is, you don't want to hear a big roar and you don't have the shot," said Barrow, 53, as he waited to go live. "We will have every shot hit today on tape."

Since 1960, the Par-3 Contest at the Masters has been Augusta National's excuse to wear a funny tie. Kids run out of the crowd! Child caddies throw balls into the pond! It's good TV, but it took 48 years for someone — Augusta National chairman Billy Payne — to put it on-air.

"It's going to be a myth-buster," said David Feherty, who is recuperating from a bike accident and was looking fit as he rested in CBS's compound Wednesday afternoon. "It'll change the perception that golf is old and stodgy."

"It's about the celebration of golf," added Barrow, who has played the par-3 course a few times himself.

Of course, it's still Augusta. Roger Twibell, the former ABC Golf anchor in town to work the Masters world feed, put it best: "Players have fun with it, but you can't get too silly with it here [as a network producer]."

Indeed, some players wouldn't even bother keeping score, but there would be a leaderboard. And Barrow wondered aloud how many players, fearing the par-3 jinx, would tank the last hole if they were in danger of winning.

"Tell me something," Barrow said as he killed the last remaining minutes in his office in a CBS trailer. "What's the difference between a contest and a tournament?"

At Augusta, where rough isn't "rough," the difference is the "contest" is on Wednesday; the "tournament" is later.

From nomenclature to tone, CBS and ESPN talent and production staff were learning as they went.

"There's no template," Tirico said. "This was announced in December, and I've been on the road working for four months, so it's been crazy."

Shortly before air, a roar went up from the crowd and grew louder, reaching its crescendo when Wayne Grady's ball nestled into the ninth hole. The Par-3 still hadn't gone live, but even without a microphone, Tirico couldn't help himself. "There's one! There's one!" Grady came jogging around the perimeter of Ike's Pond fronting the green and high-fived the patrons just outside the gallery ropes, and just like that, Barrow, CBS and ESPN had their opener.

It was great TV.

 

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