Ten Years and Counting

By George WhiteJanuary 17, 2005, 5:00 pm
Well, what would you do if you were a golf aficionado living in Birmingham, Ala., a television cable entrepreneur who had made a fortune wheeling and dealing this particular commodity, and you had Arnold Palmer staying in your home for the evening?
Most of us would go on dreaming. Joe Gibbs commissioned a study. He wanted to know if he, an everyday businessman, could do something about this whacky fantasy of his - he wanted to show golf 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, from here to eternity. And in January of 1995, by golly, it became a reality.
The Golf Channel beamed its first telecast to a smattering of homes that year, and 10 years later, Gibbs looks like a genius.
I have to admit that I was one of those non-believers, even though I came to work here at the outset. Would this thing last six months? One year? Only a couple of years? Surely it wouldnt take much longer than that for the idea to finally run its course.
It was panned incessantly ' sometimes with ample reason - by the sporting press. Now, who would want to watch golf all the time? How could you get enough programming for 24 hours, seven days a week? It all seemed so ' well, far out.
And there were plenty of mistakes early on. There was a miscalculation in how much the public would pay to watch golf all the time. Some shows went down the tubes early, very expensive lessons for a company that didnt have a lot of money. People were dismissed and people were added. Executives came and executives went. Over time, Gibbs himself stepped down when the Comcast Corporation took over.
But ' interestingly ' were still here.
Palmer guardedly gave his approval way back in 1991, when Gibbs mentioned this pipedream to him. Arnie admitted that he was uncertain if such a plan would ever work. But ' yeah, if Gibbs were certain he wanted to stick out his neck, then Palmer would stick his out, too. And that was critical, for Gibbs was an unknown in the golf world and Palmer was ' well, Arnold Palmer.
There were numerous planks in the learning process. No one had ever tried a Golf Channel, and we had to feel our way along like a blind man traversing the side of a cliff.
And ' people actually watched! We scraped by for one year, managed to hold it together for another year with the help of Fox, who infusion funds into the operation in mid-1996. We were able to keep afloat for a third year. We passed one million homes, two million, five million. Slowly, the advertisers started coming, some who were not at all involved at all with golf products. Ten million homes, then 20 million . And then it slowly sunk in. The Golf Channel would be around for a long, long time, longer than any of us could dare to imagine.
Today? The Golf Channel is seen globally. Gibbs has retired, but his dream is still alive and prospering. Comcast has assured everyone that The Golf Channel is here to stay. The golfing world has embraced us, and pros everywhere recognize this as the home of golf.
Remember Dubai in January of 1995? That was the first tournament ever broadcast by The Golf Channel, with Renton Laidlaw and Peter Oosterhuis at the microphone. The next day the cameras were at an LPGA event, the HealthSouth at Disney in TGCs home city of Orlando, Fl. Eventually almost every pro circuit in the world would have an event televised on TGC ' South Africa, Australia, Europe, Canada and the Big Four in the U.S. ' PGA Tour, LPGA, Champions and Nationwide.
The signal was beamed to Japan early on, then Canada. The United Kingdom came on board in 2003, and TGC is now seen in almost 90 percent of the world where golf is played. The Golf Channel is an international phenomenon, seen in virtually every corner of the globe.
The face of golf is much different today than it was Jan. 17, 1995, when TGC first aired its signal. Tiger Woods, of course, was still a student of Stanford University. Greg Norman was the world No. 1. Annika Sorenstam won her first tournament in the U.S. as a pro ' oh, it was the U.S. Womens Open, by the way.
Ben Wright was fired by CBS after uttering the quotes which were unflattering to women during that year. Corey Pavin won the U.S. Open ' it would be the next-to-last U.S. victory of his career. John Daly won the British Open in a playoff over Costantino Rocca ' remember him? Woods won his second straight U.S. Amateur.
And yet, TGC has been there to televise it all. Its been a shock - both to me and all the world - to see just how successful it has become. Gibbs went to the sidelines in 2001, replaced by David Manougian. Comcast also took control in 2001. By the year 2000, 30 million viewers were watching. Today, that number has more than doubled, reaching towards 70 million.
Do you play golf? Have you heard of golf? If the answer is yes, then undoubtedly youve heard of The Golf Channel. The first 10 years has gone by quickly. And eternity is a long way into the future. But The Golf Channel will undoubtedly be there.
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