Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle—America's new golf broadcast dream team—sound off on the making of 'Holey Moley'
Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo. Johnny Miller and Dan Hicks. Joe Tessitore and Rob Riggle. In the pantheon of modern golf announcers, maybe those last two aren’t what you’d expect, but then again, neither is Holey Moley—ABC’s new 10-episode mini-golf gauntlet, where Tessitore and Riggle will be plying their thunder n' lightning trade this summer. But what exactly is it, this rainbow-tastic reality golf show splattered all over primetime TV? Well, we sat down with the Batman and Very Grown Up Robin of putt-putt for a behind-the-scenes look at the season’s weirdest, wildest, golfiest game show. Needless to say, you’re not ready for what’s about to smack you in the face (no seriously, you might want to duck.)
So what the heck is Holey Moley?
A 10-part tribute to America’s favorite summer pastime that pits 12 different mini-golf ringers from around America against each other (and a course setup that makes the USGA look merciful) in a high-stakes matchplay meltdown. Every week, three finalists advance to the greatest closing hole in putt-putt, Mt. Holey Moley, with the winner survivor earning $25,000, a golden putter, and the coveted Holey Moley plaid jacket.
Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it’s not. Just listen to Tessitore, who calls it "Willy Wonka meets Wipeout meets mini-golf."
“You’re sitting there and you’re like wow the river’s made of chocolate and you can peel the gum drops off this wall and eat them. But suddenly fear is what this game is all about. You’re elevated 20 feet over cold water with a trap door that’s going to go out from underneath your feet." Tessitore says. "Let me see you putt then. You’re not putting through a clown’s mouth or a pirate ship or a windmill. You’re putting through a windmill that if you misjudge it and mistime the next step you take, it’s literally going to send your body flying.”
In other words, just imagine if golf was a contact sport played in a Roald Dahl fever dream instead of a musty old country club and you’re well on your way to getting it.
Does that make Joe and Rob the new Nantz and Faldo?
“Absolutely not,” Tessitore, who calls world title fights and bruising NFL games by day, says. “Would I love to be at Augusta National having a pimento cheese sandwich and a beautiful American draft beer for only $4.25? Yes, but I am aware enough to understand that my style and my voice and the way I go about my business would not be a good fit for golf.”
He’s close personal friends with Verne Lundquist from their years calling SEC football. He shares a kindred NFL spirit with Nantz and marvels at the Masters master's ability to “become one” with whatever he’s covering, to, as he says, "weave in his voice and his pace and his tone—his rhythm, his intonation—appropriately with the event.”
“But make no mistake,” he warns. “Holey Moley is the complete opposite of that.”
Which makes sense when you have Rob Riggle deafening your right eardrum. “Joe is a pro,” says Riggle of his partner in crime. “He is an absolute professional. His credentials are clearly established in the sports world with his ability for play-by-play and sports announcing...but we said let’s just have fun. I said ‘you call the plays and I’ll crack wise—which is kinda what I do—and we’ll just try to enjoy each other, enjoy the competition, and enjoy our contestants.’”
That sounds perfectly sane and reasonable for a nationally broadcast mini-golf show waged on a course where the bunkers are the least of your worries and the water hazards are kept nice and frosty, but Tessitore has a slight different recollection.
“When you get there and are on the course and you’re part of the setting and you’re with these golfers, you sort of forget that you’re not doing the NFL playoffs, you forget that you’re not doing a world championship fight. For these competitors, this is everything, man. They’re playing for big money and a title and a plaid jacket and a golden putter and status in their realm, so it was easy to do that and be me,” he says, carefully setting the stage for a patented Rob bomb.
“What wasn’t easy was sitting there with Rob as he’s killing it—I mean crushing it, I mean I’m like doubled over crying laughing time and time again. There were a lot of moments where I was totally breaking, absolutely incapable of staying the course being the live-event host play-by-play guy.
Sounds fun, but can they tell the difference between a 6- and a 9-iron?
First of all, it’s mini-golf. Take off the spikes, kick back, and relax Mr. Weekend Warrior. the answer to that question, however, is a resounding yes. Both are avid golfers, and Riggle regularly appears on the celebrity tournament circuit, including this year’s American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe, where Holey Moley executive producer Steph Curry (among other claims to fame) will also be in the field.
“The first time I ever went to a drive range, I was 13 years old, swinging my mom’s wood Patty Berg clubs. They were terrible clubs for me—they were old, from the '50s or something—but they were the ones that were in the garage, so I took them with some buddies and went to the driving range,” Riggle recalls. “I was terrible, like everybody, but I hit a three wood and it went like 200 yards and I remember thinking 'Oh my God, that felt so good, that was awesome, how can I do that again?' That’s when the seed was planted.”
Today, Riggle travels with his clubs, playing local courses when on movie shoots in Atlanta and Vancouver, while also frequenting Sherwood Country Club and Rustic Canyon with fellow comedians and Stix Zadinia, the drummer for neo-hair metal band Steel Panther. It's a far cry from taking his grandpa’s Kenneth Smiths and the $15 bucks he made mowing lawns to the local muni outside Kansas City for a round, a coke, and a hot dog like he grew up doing, but the spirit is the same.
Tessitore also started playing at a young age at Wolfford’s Roost Country Club in Albany, New York, and early on in his career, while covering tournaments like the Byron Nelson Classic—where he remembers Tiger Woods making an appearance as an amateur—and the Greater Hartford Open, he caught the bug bad. How bad? Well, on the last vacation with his wife before starting a family, he chose Torrey Pines, waking up at 5:30 a.m. every morning to get into a foursome as a single while his wife slept in. He doubled checks the details with her just to make sure that’s accurate, and she says it is with an almost audible eye roll.
But even Tessitore’s life as a reformed golf addict and Riggle’s experience playing mini-golf every summer in the Lake of the Ozarks (the guy is literally the king of the Midwest) couldn’t prepare them for what came next...
And what’s that?
“You have people going like 20 feet, dropping into the water. You have logs running over people as they’re trying to putt.” Tessitore says. “The hole Dutch Courage has a giant windmill that’s so big that you as the golfer, not just your ball, has to run through it while the blade of the windmill is sending you crashing 10 feet off the course into a six-foot high bed of tulips.”
“The final hole you’re putting up the side of a volcano, then you have to zipline across water and try to then land on a floating barge, make your way to the green while the volcano is bubbling up, bursting flame balls into the air. They literally built an active volcano. It’s outrageous. You can’t believe it.”
And yet despite all that, the thing that stunned Tessitore the most was the competition. “You would have somebody who is a PGA teaching pro, a club pro, or a touring pro—somebody who competed in the World Series of Putting in Las Vegas and cash games in mini-golf circuits—and on this course that may not matter,” he says. “You may get upset by somebody who’s just a Regular Joe. Who plays at Lake George Village or Wildwood New Jersey’s Boardwalk a couple times a summer with their family. That’s what would blow my mind.”
Riggle has a theory, though. “It really just depends on the individual and the specific hole too,” he says. “Because some had higher stress than others...and as we all know, when it’s stressful like that, it can affect your grip pressure.”
Well there you have it folks. As you watch America vie for putt-putt immortality every Thursday this summer, remember it’s not about the skills or the heart or the massive fire-belching volcanos. It’s about grip pressure.
You had me at "grip pressure." How can I watch?
Holey Moley premieres on Thursday, June 20th at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Feel free to DVR the NBA Draft if you absolutely must.