Sky Sports takes over live coverage of the Open a year early


It was disappointing to hear the news yesterday that BBC Sport have pulled out of live transmission of The Open at Royal Troon next year. At this year’s Open at St Andrews the BBC Golf Team were bravely cheerful, promising they would be back next year, with highlights from 2017. It is for that reason that I am disappointed. According to former Chief Executive of the Royal and Ancient Peter Dawson BBC had bid for the live rights but later in the process they switched emphasis to the highlights package. Surely by the time of this year’s Open BBC bosses knew they were going to withdraw, They could have given the BBC Golf Team a proper send off, a proper farewell from us. Instead, they chose the sneaky way. To announce a couple of months after the event, oh by the way, we won’t be going back next year.

BBC Head of Sport Barbara Slater explained the decision “we are faced with making some challenging financial savings”. Golf was under pressure due to the inflationary nature of the rights market. Whatever that means.

Sky Sports boss Barney Francis was bullish. “we have exciting plans to take coverage of The Open to the next level across TV, mobile and digital”. This is all very well, dear Sky Sports, but this is just teching up the experience. What matters to the viewer most is the quality of the broadcasting.

And for this, there will be a huge sense of loss not having Peter Alliss as part of the championship. I admit I was a bit suspicious when BBC televised a tribute to Peter on the eve of the Open. He said words to the effect on the film that he wasn’t sure why this was being done he wasn’t dead yet. So now we know. BBC were planning to pull the plug but didn’t tell us. Peter is irreplaceable, and the championship will be much the poorer without having him at the broadcast helm. It is not just about the depth of knowledge, the humour, the quick wittedness or the ability to speak around the subject, off the cuff. It is about the sound of his voice.

Sky Sports don’t get this. The monotonous drone of their golf anchors is something which needs to be addressed because it does matter. Get thee to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art presenters. RADA work with corporate people to help them present in a livelier way. It’s about time some of them were sent there. Sorry Ewan Murray, but you’re first. And Sarah Stirk. And Livvo. And Radar Riley. This is an observation, not a criticism. Sky Sports presenters are the work horses of broadcasting. They work incredibly hard commentating week in, week out. It is entirely understandable that they get vocally tired and it would make sense for them all to have professional training to use their voices in a way which doesn’t damage their vocal chords and produces the best sound, which is speaking and breathing through the diaphram rather than the throat.

There will be things about the BBC coverage I shall not miss. Foremost being the Giggleswick speech. This is something Peter Alliss has trotted out defiantly every year for as long as I can remember.

“There they are the valiant boys of Giggleswick, Radley and Stowe who come up every year to manfully operate the scoreboards”

Yes, a lovely mention for those public schools but not a soundcheck for the schoolboys from the local comprehensives who manfully pick up the rubbish and tend to the toilets. I once vented my displeasure at this speech on Twitter. Who knows if he got to hear about it?  This year he was a little bit sneaky about it. Giggleswick speech was spoken on air, but he got Andrew Cotter to do it.

I wont miss Hazel Irvine getting her facts wrong, which she often has done. She has presented golf for a very long time and yet still gets dates and venues mixed up, which has bordered from the mildly irritating to wondering how she gets away with it. This year, for example, an Open Champion who has stayed away for 10 years returned to play the Champions Challenge. Hazel boldly asserted his win was at Royal Birkdale, when it was actually at Royal St Georges. But nobody ever corrects her.

But, the sound of the voices of the anchors is what will be missed. They took their time, spoke round the edges and had fun, sounded good. Peter’s voice is still youthful, even if he well, isn’t. Something which we dont often get with Sky Sports, they take it all a bit too seriously. It is after all, entertainment as well as sport.

“Ah, the wonders of nature” said BBC’s Ken Brown, admiring the flora and fauna shown on screen.

“Indeed” observed Alliss “I was thinking exactly the same when I looked at myself in the bath this morning”.

So now it’s the droning monotone of the Sky Sports team or waiting for the BBC highlights at Silly O’ Clock. At least there is the option of pay by day or pay by week on Now TV so that a whole Sky subscription doesnt need to be taken out.

If we’d known, we would have given the BBC Golf Team an historic send off at St Andrews. To pull the plug like this is cruel to the millions of viewers who have had Peter with them all their golfing lives.

My very first visit to a golf course was when I was 7 years old and it came about because my Dad and I became absolutely entranced by the BBC TV coverage of the Open Championship. Having watched three breathtaking rounds of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson trading blows against each other, my Dad suddenly announced. “Come on, get in the car. I’ve heard we can pay at the gate. We’re going to Turnberry to see this for ourselves”. And so he drove us from Newcastle to Scotland and we walked every hole and watched every shot of the Duel in the Sun.

It wasn’t until years later that I heard on the official film how Peter Alliss summed up that historic final round. But it was absolutely perfect.

“Well. I’ve never seen anything better than that in my life. And neither have you”.


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