Golf Channel Dream Began With Twist of Fate


The dream was hatched in early 1991, when cable entrepreneur Joseph Gibbs began his quest to launch a 24-hour golf network. But it was a quest that required fate to step in to keep the dream alive.
That moment of fate came during the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Ala., when Gibbs made his home available to one of the pros playing in the tournament. The pro originally scheduled had to cancel, but who else but The King, himself ' Arnold Palmer ' took his place. The two struck up a friendship and Gibbs, who wasnt much into golf at the time, began to understand golfers love and respect for their game and the admiration the public had for Palmer.
Getting to know Arnold is when I realized how great this game is, Gibbs said. Walking with him on the golf course, I saw how much the people loved him and loved being around him. That impressed and overwhelmed me.
Several months later, Gibbs inspiration at Shoal Creek sparked the idea of The Golf Channel.
Gibbs, who already had built two successful cable companies, as well as a cellular communications business, began by commissioning several surveys to get a sense for what kind of demand existed for such a network. The results were encouraging, but Gibbs knew his lack of experience and connections within the golf industry would hamper any notions of getting his idea off the ground. So, in October 91 he contacted Palmer.
Arnold is a pretty conservative guy. Hes not the type to act on impulse, but this was an opportunity that had promise and possibilities, Gibbs said.
Palmer liked the idea, but initially had some reservations. Filling 24 hours of golf seemed like a lot to accomplish, but there are so many aspects to the game and the more I thought about it, the more I could see it working, he said. Palmer eventually invested in the project and became co-founder. International Management Group (IMG), which for years had helped build Palmers brand image, helped develop the business plan and also invested in the project.
Gibbs and Palmer publicly announced their plans to launch The Golf Channel in February 93 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, but rising hopes were nearly dashed later that year. The networks original seed money had vanished by locking up options on rights to the various tours and other business concerns ' options that were soon to expire ' and the partners were left with no other available reserves. I was six months on the streets trying to raise money we needed to make it a go and prospects werent looking too good, said Gibbs. He explained that cable operators were more worried about their own businesses, much less investing in a new one.
But Gibbs was able to raise enough money soon thereafter to extend all the options for another year and, subsequently, struck gold in May 94 when six of the countrys largest multisytem operators joined the project, which included current owner, Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp. Their investment not only infused necessary capital to keep the business going, it brought with it one of the most important keys to a fledgling cable networks success ' distribution.
At the time, those six companies reached nearly 12 million homes. It was then that Gibbs felt confident enough that he could at least break even and sustain the network through expected losses during its first couple of years.
The Golf Channel teed off on Jan. 17, 1995, at 7 p.m. ET with the United States first fully digital production facility, an experienced management team, a lineup of well-known talent and a varied programming schedule. In its first year, The Golf Channel televised 23 domestic tournaments and 41 European and Australian events.
Since then, the network has been the gold standard for other niche cable start-ups and has become the home for golf on television. The Golf Channel can now be seen in more than 90 million homes in no fewer than 25 countries, reaching nearly 90 percent of the worlds golfers.
With more than 115 tournaments telecasts each year, The Golf Channel televises more live golf than all the other networks combined. Innovative, compelling and authentic programming, including news, instruction and original specials and series ' like the award-winning The Big Break ' supplement the programming schedule and keep avid golfers on top of the game.
Other original programming includes Golf Central, a nightly golf news show; Golf Talk, a talk show featuring some of the games biggest names; College Central, a weekly news show covering mens and womens collegiate golf competition; the Sprint Post Game, weekly post-tournament shows featuring news, statistics, interviews and analysis on the weeks competition; Academy Live, a weekly call-in show offering viewers an opportunity to improve their game by consulting with top teaching professionals; The Grey Goose 19th Hole, a lively topic driven series highlighting current issues in the world of golf; Quest for the Card: Inside the Nationwide Tour, an in-depth look at the competition and life of players on the Nationwide Tour; The Golf Channel Academy, a series of half-hour instructional programs; Playing Lessons From the Pros, a series that provides instruction from tour players during their off-day practice rounds; Peter and Friends, a series of roundtable discussions about the world of golf featuring Peter Jacobsen and touring professionals; Whats in the Bag?, a series focusing on golf equipment, accessories and the titans of the industry; and Golf With Style!, a series that showcases the lifestyle of golf around the world. Other programming highlights include celebrity interviews, video tours of the worlds great courses, golf classics and other golf specials and documentaries.
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