An hour before Golf Today goes on the air, Eng ushers me into the studio, a 5,700-square-foot room with four different sets. "This is the jewel," he says, reverently. I have no time to reply, as a seven-foot, half-ton killer robot nearly runs me down. It is one of the three robotic-arm cameras gliding noiselessly around the studio. I half expect one of them to exclaim, "Danger, Will Robinson!"
No one but me seems to be alarmed that the remote controls of the robots are being operated by a longhaired high school student who apparently has sauntered in off the street. Jason Denny later informs me, a trifle defensively, that he is 25 and that he came to the Golf Channel from the Home Shopping Network, where he learned his craft. TGC is peopled by refugees from HBO, CNN, ESPN and various other cable channels among which I will soon be yearning, but unable, to surf.
I lower myself in, as it were, at 6:28 on Friday evening. To get into the golfing spirit I've checked in at The Bay Hill Club and Lodge, an Arnold Palmer-owned resort. The ceremonial duct-taping of the remote control is completed just as my maiden Golf Channel show comes on. It is Profile of a Pro, and this evening's profilee is PGA Tour player Robert Gamez. The excellent production values—brisk, montage-style editing, accompanied by foot-tapping hip-hop—nearly make up for the fact that Gamez has the charisma of a flour sack.
7:30 p.m. I order room service and settle in for Golf Central, the nightly half-hour highlights program. It opens with a sequence of the day's best and worst golf shots. The accompanying commentary by co-anchors Lynda Cardwell and Brian Hammons teems with puns and wordplay highly reminiscent of the opening of ESPN's SportsCenter.
In the golf news this evening: Dave Stockton put two in the water on a par-3 at the PGA Seniors' Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. We see video clips of both splashdowns. Basically, you get two kinds of shots on Golf Central: balls going in the hole; balls going in the drink.
My fettucini arrives with too much sauce and without the rolls I requested. Later when I call room service for a spot of dessert, a woman named Kate says, "Everything's locked up." I want to be a credit to my profession, but not if it means enduring this kind of inhuman privation.
8:00 p.m. Globetrotting takes my mind off my appetite. I am whisked to the windswept Peralada Golf Club in the north of Spain, where Ed Asner is our host for a rerun of the first round of the PGA European Tour's Catalonian Open. I beg your pardon, the man I mistook for Asner has introduced himself, in a clipped, British accent, as Renton Laid-law. After a cursory review of the leader board, I decide to root for J.L. Guepy, currently in fifth. If J.L. can take the lead into the final round, I'll be able to cheer, "Hang on, Guepy!"
11:28 p.m. At the end of a rerun of Golf Central, Hammons signs off, "Keep it in the short grass." Clever little adieus such as these are becoming de rigueur around the Golf Channel. Ballen's last words are always, "Enjoy the golf." In a promo for his show, Peter Kessler, the stentorian host of Golf Talk Live, signs off by saying, "Fairways and greens." Everyone has a signature parting remark, it seems, except Cardwell, the pride of Hokes Bluff, Ala., who confided in me earlier that day that she finds her "See you next time" a bit vanilla.
I offered suggestions: "How about, 'See you next time—now get off your fat ass and go help your wife with the dishes.' " She smiled but didn't respond. Perhaps she is looking for something more economical. "How about just plain, 'Get a life.' "
I've got a lot of room to talk. It's 11:40 on a Friday night, and I'm on the floor of my room, following LPGA veteran Martha Nause through the stretching regimen which kicks off a half-hour instructional show called Golf Channel Academy. When Nause suggests, "Sit on your ankles for 30 seconds," I think, How about if I sit on my duff for 42 more hours instead?