I am forced to admit that this summer I have spent a lot of time watching golf on T.V. The 100 degree + temperatures (why-always on the weekends?) have driven me inside to the air conditioning and my trusty recliner. Not able to afford the airfare to be there in person, I watched both the men’s US Open and British Open while avoiding the heat outside waiting to do me in. The contrast between the two championships as far as venue and T.V. coverage was eye-opening to say the least.
Although Erin Hills, built on perfectly good farmland in Wisconsin, and Royal Birkdale, built on the shores of the Irish Sea, are both links-style courses, the viewer at home had a much better view of the game in England than she did the tourney in the USA. Because the USGA chose yet another treeless links-style course where the fairways were not defined and almost every shot was a blind shot from the television viewer’s perspective, the tournament was hard to watch. No matter how many shot tracers Fox used, this course gave us no perspective as to where the target was. We could not follow the ball nor could we tell where the player was aiming and most times where the ball ended up. On the other hand, watching the action at Royal Birkdale was like watching an old friend. The fairways were clearly defined by the sand dunes which belonged there and the tall fescue and heather rough. From the tees the camera clearly picked up the landing areas in distant fairways. The only blind shot that was really noticeable was Jordan Spieth’s on #13, but of course a shot should be blind if it is hit from the practice area back to the green.
NBC’s coverage and camera work at the British was far superior to Fox’s at the US Open. NBC never failed to pick up the location of both accurate and wayward drives. I recall seeing many approach shots to the green at Royal Birkdale. Sadly, Fox’s cameramen seemed to be just as confused as we television viewers’, often not picking up on the location of drives and not making approach shots a priority. I can’t recall seeing a green target on any approach shots other than short chips or pitches. However, the fault was not in ourselves, dear golf lovers, but in the course.
Royal Birkdale is comfortably suited to the terrain it was given while Erin Hills appears to have forced its links-style on a Midwest corn field forgetting that it is in Wisconsin, not on the shores of any great body of water. The USGA seems to believe that the “modern” golf course does not require trees: note the location of the last three US Opens. However, the T.V. audience loves the definition of tree-lined fairways in order to follow the action. Perhaps we television viewers were were more comfortable in our air-conditioned homes even in our collective state of confusion. I feel sorry for both galleries and golfers searching for non-existent shade in the sweltering heat of a Wisconsin summer. British seaside courses like Royal Birkdale, working with the dunes and heather they were given, have created playable courses without trees. Then again, the climate and changing weather conditions don’t require trees for shade or for obstacles.
I would much rather be playing golf than watching it on T.V., but if I am watching, I’d like to be able to follow the play as I was able to do much more easily with the British than with the US Open.
Note: Perhaps you are wondering why we did not comment on the Women’s US Open. We were unable to watch it from our recliners as we were busy driving our air conditioned car on a road trip (see “Golf Montana Style” and “Shopping at Fiddler’s Green” blogs).