The BBC and Augusta National have a long and cherished history together but those days are long since gone, and it seems the the broadcaster is set to give up its Masters rights this year.
For decades The Masters and the BBC went hand in hand almost as much as any sport and TV coverage ever managed.
If you wanted the perfect Sunday night tradition in April, then tuning into the likes of Steve Rider and Peter Alliss was the perfect recipe for perfect viewing. If ever a tournament lent itself to being beamed around the world it was the sights and sounds of Augusta National.
Sir Nick Faldo became hooked on golf at the age of 14. Before watching the 1971 Masters on his parents’ new colour television he had never even picked up a club, from there on after he was hooked.
Within the next 25 years he would slip into three Green Jackets, half the number of the winner that year, Jack Nicklaus.
For the UK golf fan of a certain vintage we were treated to a run of eight European victories in just 12 years as Seve, Langer, Lyle, Faldo, Woosnam and Olazabal did to Augusta what they were doing to the US Ryder Cup team – giving them both barrels on their own soil.
In the middle of all of this we witnessed maybe the greatest ever Masters when a 46-year-old Nicklaus landed a sensational sixth Green Jacket, the following year Larry Mize holed the most ridiculous chip from way right of the 11th green. And so it went on. For decades it couldn’t fail and millions would point to this corner of Georgia in getting them into the game.
Augusta was the first sign of the start proper to the golfing season, both in terms of professional golf and dusting off our own clubs. Ask any greenkeeper and Augusta has almost done more harm than good with club members up and down the UK somehow expecting their own courses to resemble ‘the National’.
Even for those of us who love to live in the past that ship has long since sailed. Golf and the BBC have not been happy bed fellows for years now with Sky Sports taking over the reins in 2011, the BBC would show live coverage from the weekend, and that was then reduced to a highlights programme in 2020.
If we were to take a look at the 2022 coverage on the BBC round one highlights (90 minutes) were shown at 8am on Friday, round two at 9.30am on Saturday, round three at 8.50am on Sunday and the final round of the opening Major the year being aired at 1pm on Monday. All of these were on BBC Two.
It is estimated that it costs in excess of £1m for the BBC to broadcast its four-day highlights packages from Augusta which, even to the biggest golf fan, should strike you as a colossal waste of money in this current, or any, climate for that matter.
A large part of the beauty of the BBC coverage was the familiarity of the team covering it before the move to Sky; Alliss was still in his pomp, ably backed by the likes of Ken Brown, Andrew Cotter and Wayne Grady while the brilliant Hazel Irvine kept everything moving along at just the right pace.
Away from the commentary box Brown would provide the most memorable moments with a collection of gimmicks, ducks and self-deprecating humour that showed off the course in a very different and hugely insightful light.
It was of its time and it was ideal – and then we watched Sky Sports and realised what could be done with teams who covered the game week in, week out and things seemed to move on at just the right time. Maybe it’s the lack of familiarity these days but golf on the BBC no longer looks or sounds right and, if there was a choice, you would be hard pushed to tune in to the free-to-air coverage, even with the lack of any adverts.
It’s nothing like following the real thing and the cut and thrust of normal play but, should you not be able to get yourself in front of Sky Sports in the UK, the Masters website remains a genuine thing of beauty and something that the Men of the Masters would quickly point to in defence of their efforts to showcase the game.
Now we can watch every shot from every player within minutes of a shot being played at a tournament where play would barely show a shot from its front nine.
Given how much golf the BBC used to put out in the 80s it’s incredible that there were no days of live golf shown in 2020, a first for 55 years, but the writing had been on the wall for years before this. Times change and the comfy nature of Aunty’s broadcasts from down Magnolia Lane will now likely be a thing of the past.
For many of us the most eagerly-anticipated golf to be watched will be seen on Netflix in the coming weeks and, before too long, we’ll be back at Augusta and back in our happy place, with or without the BBC.
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Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
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