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Masters hurts its fans with limited TV coverage

By BOB HARIG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001


A Masters badge is tougher to acquire than ever, even though it sells for $125. That includes all four tournament rounds, plus parking.

You won't see corporate hospitality tents next week at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Nor will you hear prize money mentioned on television. Souvenirs, food and drinks are reasonably priced.

It's all about dignity and preserving the legacy of the late, great amateur Bobby Jones, who founded the course and the tournament.

Times change, however, and in one aspect, the Masters does not measure up: TV coverage.

The powers that be are to be commended for keeping commercialism out of their tournament. They take in far less money than they could in order to keep control, limiting TV ad time to four minutes per hour. But fans worldwide are deprived, getting to view just 101/2 hours of live coverage.

In this day of wall-to-wall coverage, the Masters remains in the dark ages, limiting its telecasts to 21/2 hours per day next Thursday and Friday, from 4-6:30 p.m. on USA. CBS takes over on the weekend, with a 3:30-6 p.m. broadcast on Saturday and a 4-7 show on Sunday. That's it.

The Masters led the way in many television innovations. It also was the first to have gallery ropes and red and black-numbered scoreboards, to show how players stood in relation to par. Players rave about it being the best-run tournament. But the event misses the point on TV.

Masters officials have long contended that they do not want to dilute their product, that they want to give their paying customers value. That's commendable, but do they really think people won't show up if the entire tournament is televised?

With Tiger Woods going for a historic fourth major championship in a row, those $125 badges will be sold on the street for several thousand dollars. The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practice rounds will be jammed with people wanting a glimpse of the course. The Masters is an incredible happening, one that could never be diminished by TV.

If anything, Masters officials are driving fans to other sources to get information, such as the Internet and the Golf Channel, which does periodic updates.

Why not a four-hour show on Thursday and Friday, with start-to-finish coverage of the leaders on the weekend? It wouldn't be that much more, and yet it would be so much more satisfying.

Don't call the TV people with your complaints. They'd show every shot of the tournament if they were allowed. But the Masters decides, and limited television coverage it is. Too bad.

KING FOR A DAY: Arnold Palmer shot his age, 71, on Monday to defeat Jack Nicklaus in their Shell's Wonderful World of Golf Match at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine. They played The King & The Bear Course they designed together and will be teammates this weekend at the venue during the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Palmer won $100,000, and Nicklaus received $50,000.

"Jack and I have been competing against each other for some 40 years," Palmer said. "I hate him when we're playing, and he hates me. But when we walk off the golf course, it's great to have a friend like Jack Nicklaus."

The match will air from 8-10 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.

AROUND GOLF: After winning three straight tournaments, including the Nabisco Championship, Annika Sorenstam gets a well-deserved break. The LPGA Tour is off for the next two weeks. When Sorenstam returns, she'll be $3,035 shy of the top spot on the LPGA's all-time money list. Sorenstam, 29, trails Hall of Famer Betsy King. . . . Golf Digest's new list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses will be out in the May issue, and five Florida courses made it, two from the Tampa Bay area. The Black Diamond Ranch's Quarry course in Lecanto is 83rd; World Woods' Pine Barrens course in Brooksville is 97th.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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