Long anticipated by avid viewers of the game, FOX Sports’ golf broadcasting debut Saturday from the Franklin Templeton Shootout is finally here. For Greg Norman, Joe Buck and the rest of the Fox team, it’s just another opportunity to improve ahead of a larger, more important debut: the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
Buck, FOX’s lead golf announcer, says the broadcast will be more of a dry run than a preview of what to expect from future events. Starting at this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, behind-the-scenes meetings, rehearsals and run-throughs—led by FOX's head golf producer Mark Loomis—have been frequent and focused. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been fun.
“Camaraderie is vital,” Buck told Golf.com. He spoke of practice broadcasts in the back of trailers at Pinehurst, dinners with Norman, Loomis, Brad Faxon and the rest of FOX’s golf team, as well as competitive rounds with and against future on-air colleagues. “We had dinner earlier this week and it was one of the most fun production dinners I’ve ever had.”
"Fun" is a big part of what the FOX crew hopes to add to golf on TV. In the back of that trailer in Pinehurst, Buck and Norman called the action as though it were live, while using commercial breaks as an opportunity for made-up slogans, puns on players’ names and other forms of light-hearted banter. That level of humor will be absent from FOX broadcasts once the red light goes on, but the occasional source of laughter won’t be. “That’s gold in golf,” said Buck.
In taking over TV rights from NBC for USGA events, FOX isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The goal, according to Loomis, is to build on the current state of golf broadcasting by making small improvements to the overall viewer experience.
“We’re not out to blow away the competition,” Loomis said. “The majority of what they do is what we’ll do: cover golf. But we’re on our way to some good innovations. When you go to an event, you get a much different feel for a specific shot than you do on TV. Our job is to bring as much of the player experience to the TV set.”
Loomis recalls watching the telecast of the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, a course he grew up playing, and not recognizing the holes because they were shown “backwards” from cameras set up behind greens. Loomis says that detracts from the player perspective and fails to depict the overall shape and layout of the course.
The player point of view seems like it will drive any changes and upgrades FOX will make. Expect an improved version of pro-tracer technology (a colored line that marks the ball’s path in the air) to be included in 2015 FOX broadcasts, along with enhancements regarding the sound of a ball traveling through the air and a focus on player-caddie chatter.
“The professional game is a different game than the one we play,” said Buck, who is “borderline obsessed” with his own game. “I’m often struck by how flat a broadcast is visually. You don’t always get a feel for where the golfer is trying to hit it or where the trouble is.
“Bringing that to the viewer is what we’re going to do first and foremost.”
The broadcast from Naples won’t include FOX's full team; Juli Inkster, Corey Pavin and Shane O’Donoghue will be absent, among others. Loomis said FOX has also hired Scott McCarron, Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher E.A. Tischler and amateur icon Buddy Marucci for involvement in next year's broadcasts.
“We don’t have everybody locked in, but we have our core group,” Loomis said. “We’ll learn from this week, and build on our strengths.”
The 2015 U.S. Open is the Super Bowl of FOX's golf broadcasting schedule, but without the benefit of a full season of games to get it right. In addition to the inaugural USGA four-ball tournament in May, the team does have months of preparation, conference calls and meetings, along with another team-building opportunity at Norman’s 60th birthday party in February. If everything goes to plan, all that back room fun will shine through next June.