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Are YouTube Golfers More Relevant Than Tour Pros

By: | Tue 18 Jun 2024

The way that we watch golf has changed forever. I am old enough to remember watching Tony Jacklin record the first televised hole in one at the Dunlop Masters in 1967. And then there was dear old Henry Longhurst saying: "What a corker", as Jacklin unleashed his final tee shot on the way to winning The Open at Royal Lytham in 1969.

The whole family tuned in to BBC to see the Englishman destroy a world-class field at the US Open in 1970.

In 2024, the BBC did not even bother to screen highlights of The Masters. So now, free-to-air broadcasters do not even pay lip service to the sport of golf.

We recently ran a survey asking you how you view golf and the results were surprising, to say the least. A total of 1,200 of you responded and much of what you had to say about Sky’s golf coverage matches my own views.

Until January, I worked as a full-time sports journalist and my employer paid my Sky bill as it was seen as an essential tool. I retired in January and decided to continue my Sky subscription because, quite frankly, I am a golf addict. The amount I pay every month costs me more than my golf club subscription - and it is so high because I wanted the sports package.

Like many of you, I watch the DP World Tour and PGA Tour every week. I cannot get enough of it.

Are TV Viewers Turning Away From Golf?

However, an increasing number of people are turning off. The viewing figures for the 2024 Masters plummeted, especially over the weekend. Part of the reason for this was clearly because Tiger Woods wasn't in contention, but you have told us that there are other reasons - the fact that you have to pay is just one of those. And the ongoing infighting within the professional game has also become a major turn-off. In America, viewing figures on the PGA Tour are now a growing concern for those who are trying to grow the game.

And just because I pay for my TV golf and watch it does not mean that I am happy with what is on offer.

Here are my issues (and yours, as it turns out):

1. There are too many advertising breaks. Just when you are getting into the action, it breaks away without warning and we are bombarded with adverts, most of which seem to be promoting betting sites;

2. There is too much talking. I have no problem with the commentary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Sky team are the best in the business. The likes of Ewen Murray, Tony Johnstone, Robert Lee, Nick Dougherty, Laura Davies, Wayne Reilly, David Howell and company are superb. They all know the game inside out. But do we really need to be subjected to those awful pre-round chats and endless predictions about what we are about to see when they could be showing us some actual golf?

3. Too much of the action centres on what happens on the greens. I am absolutely convinced that most of us want to see professional golfers hitting drives, fairway woods and long irons. I understand that it is easier to have fixed cameras at greenside, and of course plenty of drama unfolds on the putting surface. But I want to see more 320-yard drives being unleashed and to watch the players’ reactions when things go wrong.

4. It is too expensive. Period.

5. The BBC still provides full live coverage of Wimbledon, the world’s leading tennis tournament. Free-to-air broadcasters also give us the Six Nations, the Boat Race, the Grand National, assorted darts tournaments, England football matches, Euro 2024, the World Cup and the Olympic Games. So why, oh why, can’t they get their act together to screen The Open Championship?

The Rise of YouTube Golfers

Rick Shiels

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

In our survey we published images of three golfers. I fully expected most of you to be able to identify Vijay Singh and David Howell. But I was absolutely astonished that 22% of you were able to identify Grant Horvat. More of Horvat later. A total of 51% of you recognised Howell, while 90% of you were able to identify Singh.

For the under-45s in our survey, 54% of you knew who Horvat was, while only 43% recognised Howell, even though he is a regular member of the Sky team.

So, who on earth is Grant Horvat?

He is part of a new generation of YouTube golfers. And get this - he has 651,000 subscribers and has had 86,352,919 views. If you think that is impressive, check this out:

You will probably have heard of Rick Shiels. He is one of golf’s leading teachers and is highly active on YouTube. And golf fans love him. He has a staggering 2.81 MILLION subscribers and has had almost 800,000,000 views. Danny Maude, whom I must confess I had never heard of, has 1.52 million subscribers, with more than 406,000,000 views. 

These figures are truly mind boggling. And here is the thing - you can watch YouTube for nothing and you can dip in and out whenever you want. Watching live golf is time sensitive. Golf’s YouTubers are not. And, almost without exception, these people make the game fun. 

New US Open champion, Bryson DeChambeau's huge popularity with the gallery can be attributed to the success of his own YouTube channel, which has 728,000 subscribers and more than 81 million views. The American is directly reaching and engaging with his fanbase - and is benefiting from it.

Bryson DeChambeau

The Viewing Habits of Golf Fans

Going back to our survey, we first asked if you had attended a professional golf tournament and 78% of you had. This is how it breaks down:

  • 56% The Open
  • 50% DP World Tour/European Tour
  • 17% PGA Tour
  • 10% LPGA
  • 6% LET/Aramco/WBO
  • 6% PGA Championship
  • 5% Seniors Tour
  • 4% The Masters
  • 3.6% LIV Golf
  • 1.7% US Open
  • 1% Challenge Tour event

On top of that, 13% indicated you had attended either the Ryder Cup or Solheim Cup.

  • 96% had watched the Majors on TV or streaming services.
  • 98% had watched professional golf on TV or streaming services.  
  • 59% of the respondents stated that they watch every week and 29% only occasionally.
  • 19% stated they had watched a LIV Golf event. This is up from 15% when we conducted a similar survey in 2023 - and is a figure that look likely to increase.

The majority of respondents mostly watch the Majors or PGA Tour (87%), while 73% watch the DP World Tour. 57% the LPGA. And 14% LIV Golf.

The biggest issues relating to watching golf on TV related to the lack of free coverage and the subscription cost to access the major tours. This was closely followed by the volume of adverts also accompanying the TV coverage. But issues are clearly evident in the data below and additional comments.

If you watch or have ever watched golf, how big an issue are the following?

Golf on TV Survey

Here are some of your views:

"I want less ad breaks and a broader look at the players. Too much emphasis on superstars, even when playing badly."

"The move from regular network coverage to any of the additional streaming options, like Peacock, is equal to taking on a new mortgage payment."

"There are too many adverts in the Sky Coverage, and too many annoying sponsorship bumpers."

"There is way too much padding, adverts, talking. I just want to watch golf!"

"Everything is now on Sky, rather than the BBC."

What Golf Fans Want to See

So what do you actually want to see?

  • 54% want to be able to hear more caddie-player conversations.
  • 50% want less talking from commentators and more golf shots.
  • 38% want more on-course analysis.
  • 27% want more behind-the-scenes coverage.
  • 26% want more more instruction led content.
  • 24% want more content and interaction via player microphones.

Here is what you had to say on the subject:

"Let’s have more comprehensive coverage of all players, not just the same top 10 all the time."

"Focus on more players rather than just the stars or leaders."

"Show us everyone playing all of the time rather than selected groups being followed."

"We need better info on club selection."

"Fewer putts, more drives and approach shots. Show the bad golf too, not just the highlights."

"I get annoyed with the pundits playing with their new technical toys analysing swings to a degree beyond my capability and interest."

"Less of the endless, needless stats, most of which are only applicable to US coverage."

“I would enjoy analysis of how players make shots and attack certain holes."

"Can we have a bit more of the on-course slow motion of players swing action and analysis?"

"I don't care what goes on behind the scenes, I don't want to hear them speak, if I want instruction I will go see a pro, on course analysis is usually garbage, I'm watching to see golf shots - show me some more golf."

What Turns You Away From Watching Golf on TV?

Finally, we wanted to understand what is turning off golf fans from watching the coverage on the TV. There are no surprises here:

  • 47% cost of subscription being too high.
  • 34% current divide within the golf world.
  • 26% game less interesting than it used to be.
  • 20% televised coverage not good enough.
  • 13% not enough interest in individual players.

And here is what you had to say:

"Commentators are not as good or quirky as they used to be."

"I love playing, but find watching golf immensely boring. Pictures of sky, then fairway, eventually a ball rolling. Putting - no way to read the green so it is just unbelievably boring. To play, great, to watch, hideously boring, and that includes commentary!"

"I like it and watch as much as I can. I particularly like the banter between pundits, experts, ex pros, etc."

"Lack of complete round coverage on golf network then main channel following."

"Missing LIV players at PGA events."

"The slow speed of play can be a bit off a dampener, particularly putting. I sometimes record the golf and fast forward between putts."

"I have stopped watching the majors because half the best players in the world now don’t play in them."

"There is too much detailed swing analysis in the studio."

"Coverage is boring, not enough golf shots of all types being shown, too much putting coverage."

"The top players are not attending as many events as they did. So many unknowns."

"My big thing is the amount of time it takes for pros to play a shot."

"Too many lesser players even in top tournaments."

"Weakened fields on the PGA Tour make it less interesting."

"LIV Golf has ruined the sport for me. You want the best players competing together. The money LIV players get is ridiculous."

"PGA Tour coverage is too long, LIV format is much better."

"LIV is more interesting to me than the PGA due to the format differences."

It is interesting to note, even among your feedback, that LIV continues to divide opinion, although clearly it is beginning to win over more fans. I am also encouraged to note that I am not the only one who believes there is too much focus on putting.

One thing is for sure - paid-for TV subscriptions are here to stay. But if the likes of Sky want to keep hold of their audience they are going to have to adapt.

Before analysing the results of this survey I barely ever turned to YouTube but Messrs Horvat and Shiels can now count me as one of their subscribers! 

Related Content

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The Way That We Watch Golf Has Changed Dramatically

Who Exactly is Watching LIV Golf

Why Are Millions of Golf Fans Switching Off Their TVs

The Best Golf Commentators on Sky Sports

The Golf YouTube Channels You Need to Watch

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