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The Best TV Golf Commentators

By: | Fri 26 Jun 2020 | Comments

Televised golf has progressed dramatically since those formative days when the ancient game first began trickling into our living rooms in the 1950s. The beauty of courses was showcased through the advent of colour, coverage expanded from limited camera angles of just a few holes to all-day feasts of action, featuring computer graphics and innovative technology. 

But one thing that has not changed is the need for educated voices to enhance the pictures, those who add knowledge, insight and humour to proceedings, carrying the viewers along with them. The best are experts in not only knowing what to say, but when to say it, adding that extra touch of magic to the drama unfolding on our screens.

For those of us in the UK, the dulcet tones of Henry Longhurst, Peter Alliss, Alex Hay, Ewen Murray and Bruce Critchley have been indelible parts of many legendary moments broadcast on British television, whether it be on the BBC or Sky Sports. 

In America, the voices of Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker, Ken Venturi, Ben Wright, Johnny Miller, Nick Faldo, Judy Rankin, David Feherty and Gary McCord have defined major championships and the PGA Tour, sometimes dividing opinion, but always delivering memorable lines that have become inseparable from the golf shot they described.

No one will forget Verne Lundquist's famous call: "Here it comes...Oh, my goodness!...OH, WOW!! IN YOUR LIFE, have you seen anything like that?" when Tiger Woods remarkably chipped in for birdie on the 16th at Augusta National in 2005.

Favourite TV Golf Commentary Lines

There are so many voices, whether it be in the studio, tower, or booth, that have defined eras in the sport. Everyone has their favourites, it is not possible to definitively judge the best, but we asked several Golfshake Ambassadors - all of them keen followers of the game - to share with us the TV golf commentators they love to hear the most.

Matt Holbrook picks out a relatively new professional golfer turned broadcaster who has drawn acclaimed on Sky.

"Nick Dougherty for me stands out above the rest for a number of reasons. 

"Firstly, given that he is probably the most recently retired player commentating he will be a lot closer and understand the current game better than anyone else might do.

"He also comes across so well and seems to be liked by a lot of people on tour and this coupled with things like his mini-series he did when retiring (available on Golfshake) and some of his social media content makes him such a likeable, down to earth and approachable person. 

"His knowledge of the players and their game is right up there as well."

That's a view fellow Golfshake Ambassador Robert Cross shares, while also praising the wider coverage.

"Nick Dougherty springs to mind. He's a really positive presenter, has great rapport with the players and isn't afraid to ask a question. It's great to see him getting more and more airtime.

"I love Butch Harmon. He's been around the game for such a long period of time yet is connected to the modern game. He's great value in the studio as much as on the air. It's clear he has the respect of his peers and all the stories he has are fantastic, both past and present.

"Ewen Murray has a familiar voice and compliments a lot of his co-presenters.

"Ken Brown during BBC Masters coverage is just lovely. Great fun, very candid and also super knowledgeable. Who doesn't love 'Ken on the Course!'

"I really like the current players who guest present, picking out Darren Clarke, Jamie Donaldson and especially Jack Nicklaus! 

"Sky raised the bar with the coverage, I'm a huge fan of The Open Zone. Getting to see the players up close and personal is great to watch and allows us regular golfers to see how good these guys really are!"

Kevin Heggie is another fan of the American imports on Sky Sports.

"Rich Beem provides perspective from someone who's close to the tour, as well as plenty of amusing anecdotes, and Butch Harmon has a wealth of knowledge which he freely shares, plus endless enthusiasm when players hit great shots - attaboy!

"I also enjoyed listening to Andrew Cotter when the BBC still had golf coverage. I largely think it was his Scottish accent, but he also comes across as hugely knowledgeable without distracting from the coverage."

Mel Davies values the addition of fun when the golf is on TV.

"My two favourites are Peter Alliss and Wayne “Radar” Riley.

"Both for similar reasons, I guess. They say what they think and have what I would term a wicked sense of humour which I really like.

"You can just tell the passion they have both for the sport and also for the job they are doing in bringing their thoughts and knowledge to golf fans.

"Whenever I know Radar is commentating, I can always feel myself getting prepared for a fun but also interesting take on the day ahead, which in my eyes is what it’s all about and certainly makes the commentary so much more exciting for me."

Richard Moore faces a constant battle for the television remote, but one legendary commentator helps him gain control.

"My wife hates golf - mostly because I play so much which irritates her. But she laughs along with Peter Alliss, which was the only reason I could keep the live golf on the TV in the past when it was on BBC. Sadly, live golf is now relegated to the iPad and headphones

"I love some of his expressions, his anecdotes and links to how that would never happen in his day are classic."

Golfshake's Digital Editor Kieran Clark has also shared his thoughts and identifies a personal top ten.

"Like anything, bad commentary is easy to spot, but the good stuff you only notice when it matters. Golf has been lucky to have many outstanding voices, but I would also credit the presenters, those who front the coverage, the likes of Hazel Irvine, David Livingstone and Sarah Stirk, who are skilled at steering the ship and getting the most from their pundits. Tim Barter on Sky is one of the most underrated people in sports broadcasting, but he does not really occupy the commentator role.

"I enjoy those who avoid cliche, aren't hyperbolic, are keen to share their honest thoughts, and provide a touch of levity. I have picked out just ten in alphabetical order."

Peter Alliss - Now 89, the grand old man of commentary has been in the booth for so long that it is easy to forget that he was among the finest players of his era. While his sense of humour divides and he's certainly not as crisp as his heyday, Alliss retains a deep wisdom about the game, remains connected to its principles, and isn't afraid to speak up, often cutting through the reverential tone that can occasionally seep into golf.

Rich Beem - Sky's hiring of the 2002 PGA Champion was inspired, the American deftly finds the balance of humour and insight, adding colour to the broadcast, both in the studio and on commentary, but also expressing the knowledge of someone who had a remarkably varied playing career, punctuated by a seemingly unlikely major championship victory.

Andrew Cotter - Recently known for the chronicles of his dogs Olive and Mabel on Twitter, the Scot just happens to be one of the UK's finest sports broadcasters. If he were not as adept at covering other sports, Cotter would have a permanent place in golf.

Butch Harmon - Another US veteran on Sky, Harmon is an engaging personality, strongly opinionated but with a showman quality. He clearly enjoys being on camera and expressing his thoughts on commentary, with his passion for the game evident. Butch is deeply rooted within golf and his appearances through the years at major championships have always enhanced Sky's coverage.

Tony Johnstone - The popular Zimbabwean is a fantastic storyteller, adds fun to the broadcast, but also the knowledge of a golfer who had enjoyed a long playing career around the world. Whenever the European Tour is in South Africa, Johnstone's passion for wildlife and nature is just an added bonus.

Johnny Miller - The two-time major champion was certainly not everyone's cup of tea during his long tenure at NBC, but I always welcomed hearing his views, even if I didn't agree with them, they came from someone who had achieved much in the game and didn't hold back his opinions. There was an authority to Miller's announcing that you rarely see today.

Ewen Murray - The voice of Sky's golf coverage since the 1990s, Scottish professional turned broadcaster, Murray is extremely skilled and knowledgeable, smoothly transitioning between moments in a tournament, adding just enough information to heighten the action. His commentary is flawless, to such an extent that you forget just how good he is.

Frank Nobilo - Brilliant analyst of the game, calm, articulate, uses detail to support his statements, Nobilo was impressive during his Golf Channel days, although he needs more airtime these days to best showcase his strengths on CBS. Nonetheless, he brings a great deal to any broadcast.

Judy Rankin - Of the many voices in American broadcasting, Judy Rankin is the one I value most. The LPGA legend has a wonderfully calming tone on commentary, knows exactly when to say the right thing, and invariably adds a simple touch of wisdom. She is a wonderful storyteller, expressed through an economy of words, which is the highest compliment.

Wayne Riley - Larger than life, the former Scottish Open winner brings a turn of phrase and rich knowledge to on-course commentary. His feel for the game is staggering, his ability to read shots and lies, predicting the optiosn that the player is facing in any situation, is perfect for his role on the broadcast, something that makes the Australian the best at that role.

So, there are just some views on golf TV commentators. Who are your favourites? Past or present, living or dead, let's hear your picks for the best voices in the game.

Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography

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