Extras set Sky coverage apart, but BBC needs to jump forward a few decades

Kevin Markham reflects on the Open at Royal Birkdale.

In the wake of The Open, as the golf media reel off all the statistics around Jordan Spieth’s victory, and the R&A proclaim The Open Championship a massive success with a record English attendance of 235,000, there are so many other elements that get pushed to the side.

The work of the volunteers and the greenkeepers most notably. Royal Birkdale looked immaculate and if there were complaints about the course from any of the players, I certainly didn’t hear them. For most of us watching on television, we had to watch and listen to what Sky wanted us to see, or what the BBC considered to be the ‘highlights’.

A few years ago the decision to remove The Open from terrestrial TV enraged many but, having watched the 2016 and 2017 Opens on Sky, many will have changed their minds.

What’s Good?

Sky’s tracer shots and putting arcs are almost part and parcel of golf coverage nowadays, but they make a huge difference to viewers at home. Perhaps what really sets them apart are the extras offered by Sky. The links bunker lesson that Ian Poulter gave in Sky’s Open Zone area on Thursday was a brilliant idea. A high bunker face is enough to terrify most of us, but Poulter explained why the sand type and depth are different and what you need to do to escape. The face full of sand he had to endure from the wind after his shot was just an added bonus. On Sunday they had a chat with Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, and Paul McGinley was there, too.

As with any commentator, there will be those who like a style of delivery and those who don’t. Butch Harmon was excellent, as was McGinley, while ‘Radar’ Riley on the course was very astute in his observations of what shot the pro was going to play. OK, yes, the ghostly appearance of players popping out of studio screens to stand and stare at the camera were a touch creepy, but overall it was a big thumbs up.

Also, the ad breaks were mercifully short.

What’s Not So Good?

The BBC highlights coverage was uninspiring… certainly compared to Sky. When Ken Brown pointed out McIlroy arriving on the 1st tee on Saturday’s programme with the words: “One of the players coming onto the football field, Rory McIlroy...” you just knew they were trying too hard to be hip. The ‘Ken on the Course’ segments were once informative, but now they are almost laughable and, when you combine the ages of the two main commentators (Peter Alliss and Brown) and come up with 146, you know it’s time for the BBC to hand the reins over to the likes of Andrew Cotter, and those with a different viewpoint on the game. I have enjoyed Alliss’s commentary for years but it was of its time and that time has passed. Everything about the BBC coverage could do with jumping forward a couple of decades, and hopefully before the PGA Championship in two weeks.

Other Tidbits

At the end of every Championship, as the winner makes himself clear, the TV screen always fills with the engraver hard at work, carefully working his magic as he applies the winner’s name to the silver band around the Claret Jug. It wasn’t always that way: Prior to 1968, it was the responsibility of the ‘Champion Golfer’ to get his name engraved on the trophy. It was when Roberto de Vincenzo returned the trophy in 1968 without his name on it that the R&A decided to do the job themselves. Now, it is all a question of timing… so you won’t be that surprised to learn that Jean van de Velde’s name was engraved on the trophy before his epic collapse in 1999.

Birdie of the Day

There were plenty of birdies and eagles at Royal Birkdale — almost a Rickie Fowler albatross, too — but it was a peregrine falcon by the name of Jet and a Harris hawk named Gin that did the real flying. They were sent out at first light to scare the gulls and keep them away from spectator and VIP areas, where food and drink were available.

Quotes of the Week

“She’s called Daisy Meadows. It will draw a few chuckles at the church if things go as planned for me.”

Leading amateur and silver medal winner Alfie Plant talking about his girlfriend. Her sister is called Rose… perhaps she should hook up with one of the other professionals at The Open… Toby Tree.

“I was quiet in the car. Then I watched a movie, and I went and got some ice cream. And after I ate some ice cream, I became a lot happier.”

Jason Day, after thinking he had missed the cut.

“Everyone was giving me an ovation and I thought it’s time to appreciate that, enjoy the walk, and say thank you for the support these crowds give. These fans are second to none.”

Jordan Spieth after Day 3, and after Day 4, too, no doubt.

“Branden, if I had known you shoot 62 with those shades you think I would have given them to you!?.... great round today buddy!”

A Saturday Tweet from Henrik Stenson to record-breaker Branden Grace.

“To those that came to watch, shout, support and be part of @TheOpen with me in my hometown. Thank you, I’m proud to have played in front of you.”

Tommy Fleetwood, on Twitter.

A quirk of links golf was on display all week on one of the scoreboards : ‘Lower section of this board is closed due to nesting bird.’

Royal Portrush 2019

The record attendance of 235,000 will have Royal Portrush, local towns and the Northern Ireland tourism bodies salivating ahead of 2019. Royal Birkdale’s attendance figures were up 35% on the previous year’s event at Royal Troon.

No doubt those on the north coast will be hard at work on their calculators assessing how much extra space, how many extra buses, trains and car parks will be needed should the attendance trend continue. There has already been considerable investment in the region’s infrastructure and the number of accommodation providers continues to grow — a new £8m, 103-bedroomed hotel is planned for Portrush, itself — so there is growing optimism along the north coast, especially in the wake of Portstewart’s successful hosting of the Irish Open.

It may be two years away, but The Open Championship juggernaut is already casting a shadow on this side of the Irish Sea, and fans need to be thinking ahead.



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