Golf Channel scrambles on Sunday at Sony Open as labor dispute threatens future tournament broadcasts
Nothing was entirely what it seemed during the telecast of the final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii, as Golf Channel producers scrambled to put together a broadcast disrupted when union video and audio workers, on the job for the the first three days of the tournament, went on strike on Sunday after negotiations stalled over a new contract.
The primary announcers throughout the five hours of live coverage—George Savaricas, Billy Kratzert and Jim Gallagher Jr.—were not on the scene at Waialae Country Club, but rather sitting in Golf Channel’s main studio thousands of miles away in Orlando. And the voices of Whit Watson, Frank Nobilo and Mark Rolfing, reporting during the first three rounds of play in Honolulu, were nowhere to be heard as Patton Kizzire edged James Hahn on the sixth hole of a sudden-death playoff.
While missing some of the usual golf telecast staples—most notably close-up shots of the contenders from hand-held camera following them in the fairways and sounds of players and caddies interacting during strategic moments over the closing holes—the coverage proved relatively even and glitch free—even as it went an extra six holes. Overhead blimp shots and post-round interviews from Todd Lewis help provide some continuity for viewers used to traditional telecasts.
What were difficult to replace were the ambient noises heard throughout the course (something you don't appreciate until it goes missing) and the lack of commentary from on-course reporters Jim (Bones) Mackay, Notah Begay III or Jerry Foltz. Interestingly, Foltz was part of the telecast in a different way. He hopped into the TV tower on the 16th hole and work the camera during the broadcast.
The big question now is how long will the strike last. A source said that a lawyer representing the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union that represents 390 total Golf Channel workers on technical elements of the broadcast, flew to New York on Sunday to try to push the stalled talks along. According to the Associated Press, a meeting between the two sides was scheduled for Tuesday.
If there was no immediate resolution to the impasse, Golf Channel’s broadcast from the final two rounds of the Web.com Tour’s Great Exuma Classic on Monday and Tuesday will also be impacted. During Sunday’s coverage from the Bahamas, where other union workers also walked off, there were audio issues and coverage was limited to just a handful of holes due to fewer cameras being in operation.
Next week’s broadcast of the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge and the PGA Tour Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, both Golf Channel-produced tournaments, are also likely to be affected if the strike isn’t resolved in the coming days.