Facebook Twitter



There have been a few snickers about the notion of a 24-hour golf channel.

Tennis magazine mocked the plan to show "24 hours of chubby guys in bad clothes speaking in jargon that only they understand," saying it would be redundant "considering we've already got C-Span."Sports Illustrated jokingly proposed a lineup including "Nick At Night" (highlights of Nick Faldo re-cleating his golf shoes each night) and "Body By Jack" (daily calisthenics with Jack Nicklaus, including the 30-minute routine you can do without getting out of your cart).

Joseph Gibbs doesn't mind being the butt of jokes. In fact, he expects to get the last laugh when The Golf Channel goes on the air in May 1994.

"There are 25 million golfers in America," said Gibbs, president of the new cable network. "They enjoy watching competitive golf. They enjoy watching good shot-making. They want to see good golf from anywhere in the world."

Since most golfers are middle or upper-middle class, Gibbs doesn't expect the cost of the service to be a problem.

"We'll be charging $5 or $6 a month," said Gibbs, part owner of a local cable company and cellular telephone firm. "That's a couple of balls to a golfer. That's no big deal at all.

"Golf is booming. All these war babies ... are in their 40s and 50s now. They're not able to play tennis or baseball anymore, so they get into golf. It's something they can do the rest of their lives."

Gibbs sold the idea to Arnold Palmer, who agreed to become chairman of The Golf Channel.

"I think golf generally is moving so fast, the interest in golf worldwide is so great, that I feel a golf channel is in order," Palmer said.

Palmer plans to begin scaling back his tournament schedule and devote more time to his cable network, though his role has yet to be determined. Gibbs suggested that he could take part in a series of "fireside chats" from the scenes of some of his most famous wins, like Augusta National.

"At some point I would certainly consider having some kind of show on The Golf Channel," Palmer said in a telephone interview. "My schedule is going to start winding down as far as my playing career is concerned."

The Golf Channel will feature two live golf tournaments a week, Gibbs said. One will come from overseas - the tours in Europe, South Africa and Australia are all under contract - while the other will be an American event from either the PGA, LPGA or Nike tours.

Viewers can also expect instructional programs, talk shows, travel guides featuring golf packages all over the world, a "home shopping club" for golfing merchandise and footage of old tournaments.

"There's so many things surrounding golf that I don't think it's going to be hard to fill up the full 24 hours," Gibbs said. " There will be some repeat programming, but not much."

For now, the administrative headquarters are located in Birmingham while production facilities will be in Orlando, Fla., an area that is home to many pro golfers and provides the warm climate needed for year-round taping outdoors. Gibbs said he may eventually move the whole operation to central Florida.

The impetus for The Golf Channel is the ever-changing world of cable television, which is dealing with new federal guidelines and the not-so-distant capability to deliver hundreds, rather than dozens, of channels to its viewers.

"I think they're going in the right direction, just in terms of what's going to happen in cable TV over the next two or three years," said Chris Stern, a reporter for Broadcasting & Cable magazine. "People are going to have to start selecting the channels they want and pay for them."

It's known as "a la carte" programming, where viewers will get to pick their own cable lineup rather than being forced to take a basic package which is put together by the cable company.

"The more of that that happens, the better off The Golf Channel will be," Stern said. "If people get used to the idea of selecting and making up their own menu, people who are interested in golf will see that as a solid alternative."

Stern says the major obstacle facing The Golf Channel is the enormous cost of teeing off - somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million, about double the cost of other cable channels. It's so expensive because it costs a lot to purchase the TV rights to tournaments around the world.

"That's a lot of money," Stern said. "It's going to be tough to overcome."

Gibbs, who's busy lining up investors, won't have the funds to hire big-name anchors. But he is promising innovative production techniques and a distinctive look to the new channel.

He is confident of success, especially with Palmer playing in his twosome.

"His name is helping us raise seed money and helping us get advertising dollars," Gibbs said. "He is the key."