This is one of the most iconic weeks of the sporting year: when the eyes of the world descend on Augusta, Georgia and the 2019 Masters Tournament gets underway.
For the vast majority of us around the world this is a TV-only spectacle and always will be. Tickets to see it in real life are like goldust: and even if you manage to score some, you’ll pay thousands of pounds for the privilege.
But that’s ok: this is a fantastic televisual experience, especially for those of us in Europe. There’s something special about staying up to watch genuinely gripping drama played out on the most pristine of golf courses: the pink azaleas and verdant green fairways belie the difficulty of the course’s dangerous length and its greens like putting on bathroom tiles. Augusta is cute, but psycho.
Golf has been a sport lost in the weeds of digital transformation. It takes four or five hours for a group of pros to finish 18 holes, forcing fans to sit glued to a screen for an entire night: not even the most gripping of fast-action sports like football can manage it for even 90 minutes these days. Second screening is something we’re in-built to do now, and it’s taken quite a while for golf to figure out how to use that properly. It’s fair to say this isn’t a sport built for short attention spans.
But the launch of GolfTV shows the potential this unique sport has. In its short existence, the Discovery-owned channel has poached Henni Zuel (who made a name for herself as the engaging on-course reporter for Sky Sports’ PGA Tour coverage) and Jamie Kennedy (the European Tour’s former social media manager), showing they’re planning to do more than simply broadcast the live action but have an eye on off-course content too. The creativity of the European Tour and PGA Tour’s innovative use of near-live highlights have also been a factor in growing the sport on digital channels.
Golf may not seem like the most social friendly sport in many ways it’s brilliantly suited to the always-on stream of content sport has become. With another major coming up every month until August – when the FedEx Cup playoffs begin – the sport now has a packed summer schedule to take advantage of.
Then there’s the bottleneck of supreme talent at the top of the game which makes final day leaderboards so interesting. This week there is a slew of potential winners of this most famous of golfing prizes, and this is a chance to promote their personalities to a wider audience and to do so during a weekend when the pressure is well and truly on.
Take four-time winner Tiger Woods and three-time champion Phil Mickelson for example. They’re household names who need no promotion, but there are opportunities for broadcasters and social media managers to dredge up iconic shots of the past. Mickelson from between two trees on the 13th in 2010 is arguably the greatest shot ever hit at Augusta, while Tiger’s 2005 chip-in on 16 was so aesthetically perfect that Nike gave it its own TV commercial. Then take your pick of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. Each has a different personality and a different style of play and there’s a chance to promote this come Thursday morning.
The deceptively difficult Augusta is anything but a simple stroll around a perfectly manicured park. Putting this ever-growing cast of top players into pressure situations mixes the elements of reality TV and sporting prowess into the type of cocktail so in vogue across all social media channels at the moment. Every shot is a potential highlight and every reaction a possible viral clip.
Augusta National calls the fans ‘patrons’, forces caddies to wear white overalls and reserves the right to mete out life bans to any patron caught using a mobile phone. It is the most traditional of the major championships, and may not seem like the springboard for the most digitally-friendly golfing major of all time. But don’t be fooled: the 2019 Masters is a chance for golf to really embrace social media at last.