Television

18 Holes of Fun!

The Golf Channel converts me into a lover of golf.

2010 Masters Tournament. Click image to expand.
Phil Mickelson at the Masters

With the return to golf of the prolific adulterer Tiger Woods, CBS’s weekend broadcast of the final rounds of the Masters was a ratings bonanza as millions of gossip-drunk lookie loos joined sports fans to behold the greenery of a fancy Georgia country club—its emerald fairways and dark-forest blazers. “There’s no need to adjust your set,” an announcer reassured us. “The greens are a little greener at Augusta National.” How much more green could it be? The answer is none. None more green.

But the man with the colorimeter was not speaking into any one of the CBS eye-logo microphones. Rather, he was contributing to the exhaustive reportorial efforts of the Golf Channel, where all of us hard-core golf-hard go for the analysis and perspective that deepen our love for the sport. I probably ought to offer the disclaimer that I didn’t care at all about golf until three days ago, when the Golf Channel started teaching me how to love it. Before that I hadn’t thought at all about golf since last summer, when I only needed three gimmes and four mulligans to beat a 12-year-old at putt-putt.

The Golf Channel began changing my life with British Open Highlights (2006), one of the retrospectives it ran while Phil Mickelson was catching his Saturday-afternoon sunburn. Brilliantly, the show condensed a whole tedious golf tournament down to one thrilling hour of television offering plenty of context, psychological insight, and a briefing on then-recent developments regarding the host club’s parking-lot shuttle-bus system. There was even time for commercials—ads for golf clubs, golf GPS systems, and golf vacations, including a “couples golf festival” that I’m pretty sure is a swingers’ retreat. All in all, it was really very not boring! My only complaint about these documentaries is the music, with PGA Championship Highlights (2007) emerging as a particularly significant nuisance. The frat-house acoustic guitar scoring footage of the early rounds rose to an open-mike jam-band rattle to convey the players’ rising excitement.

Hooked, I stuck with the channel for the rest of weekend, captivated by its expert analysis of the Masters. The Golf Channel avoided Tiger’s hoochie issue as much as humanly possible, if not more so. Early on Sunday, John Feinstein even swatted down a stray euphemism that had been floating through the air: “All due respect to Nick Faldo, but can we not say, ‘What Tiger’s gone through,’?” meaning that because Woods brought his troubles on himself, he hasn’t really “gone through” anything except a random collection of tasteless floozies. Later, with the tournament itself airing on CBS, the Golf Channel went to its film library—”movies that make the cut”—for counterprogramming: A Bobby Jones Film LLC’s presentation of Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius starring Jim Caviezel as Bobby Jones. Caddyshack is coming up on Wednesday.

As a new convert to the pleasures of the game, I was especially disappointed to see the new reality show that the Golf Channel sneak-previewed Saturday night. It was called Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf, and when you hear that a show has a title like that, you instantly start worrying that it will be stifled by its own good taste. I hadn’t thought about Trump’s vacation properties in ages, not since 1997, when Mark Singer’s profile of the short-fingered vulgarian ran in TheNew Yorker, recounting the psychic wounds Singer suffered while tracking The Donald down to his Palm Beach resort: “My visit happened to coincide with the coldest weather of the winter, and this gave me a convenient excuse, at frequent intervals, to retreat to my thousand-dollar-a-night suite and huddle under the bedcovers in fetal position.”

If might be best to think of Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf, the theme song of which is Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best,” as a kind of Hitting Out of the Rough With the Stars. It might be even better to think of the show not at all. In the first episode, Trump—his succulent little breasts bulging in his tucked-in polo shirt and a stiff red cap giving his comb-over the illusion of being mullet—welcomes Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor to his fabulous world. Here, the retired NFL stars play a mediocre round for charity and for bragging rights while Trump does both play-by-play and color commentary—and even introduces us to a few more of his fabulous friends. Oh look, here’s “a representative of the Miss Universe Pageant. And her interpreter!” Shortly joining Rice, LT, and our gracious host on the course, the former was wearing painted-on plaid shorts while carrying the scoreboard around like a ring-card girl.

Later, Trump stalked across the screen accompanied by another glamour girl, this one of a certain age. She had thought it wise to match a tartan skirt with a newsboy cap and a pair of Uggs boots, and Trump was excited to show her off. “This is the mother of Anna Kournikova,” Trump bragged. “She’ll be on television.”