Palmer is the cofounder and chairman of the Golf Channel, but he cannot fairly be described as its father. The channel's gleaming, state-of-the-art headquarters would still be an abandoned industrial park were it not for the guts and gelt of a Birmingham-based entrepreneur named Joe Gibbs. Gibbs parlayed a modest fortune into a obscene one in the 1980s by betting correctly on cellular telephones and cable television, which is why I had felt no qualms about accepting his offer to take me to lunch the day before.
As we waited in line at the strip-mall barbecue joint he chose for our repast, Gibbs fed me background on his baby. During the 1990 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek, Palmer stayed in Gibbs's guest house. The pair of heavy hitters became friends. A year later Gibbs bounced the idea of a 24-hour golf channel off Palmer, whose initial response, he recalls, was lukewarm.
At one point Gibbs was in a meeting with Palmer and Palmer's financial advisers. Arnold's people were not keen on the idea of a golf channel. Then it was Arnold's turn to speak. "If I hadn't tried to hit it through the trees a few times," he said, "none of us would be here."
So Palmer came on board, and by May '94, Gibbs had put together a consortium of six cable companies that together invested $60 million in the Golf Channel, which went on the air on Jan. 17, 1995. It is now available in eight million homes.
10:00 p.m. I am now well into my second helping of the second round of the Catalonian. I'm only now realizing the extent to which Laidlaw and Peter Oosterhuis dwell on the wind, which is gusting up to 30 kilometers per hour in Spain. "Regular viewers of the Golf Channel will recall that we had some very strong winds in Portugal," Laidlaw notes.
If winds abated the world over, what would golf analysts talk about? Winds are befuddling the oldsters at the PGA Seniors' Championship in Florida; swirling winds are confounding the Nike players at the Tallahassee Open; high winds in North Carolina are plaguing the Pinewild Women's Championship. As a gesture of solidarity—and as a consequence of subsisting On black coffee and mediocre room service fare for 30 hours in an enclosed space—I am experiencing wind issues of my own.
11:30 p.m. How great is this? Tommy Smothers makes a cameo appearance on The Golf Channel Academy, wielding a yoyo and touting his proposed golf book, The 27 Most Important Things to Remember at the Moment of Impact. Smothers takes the yo-yo on the golf course, he explains, in order to defuse the embarrassed silences that follow his poor shots in the many pro-ams in which he plays.
He incorporates instructor John Redman's tips while swinging the yo-yo at a ball, whiffing repeatedly. Redman and the show's host, Kessler, look on smiling, but at the same time, it seems to me, they are slightly uneasy. As I reflect on it, there is something subversive about Smothers's yo-yo antics. Could it be that he is making light of this great game, which is really more than a game, which is actually a lifestyle. I now have a clearer understanding of why, in the 1960s, CBS threatened to censor the Smothers Brothers.
4:35 a.m. The tiny puddle in a fold in my shirt beneath my chin? Let's not call it drool. Let's call it casual water.
5:00 a.m. One of Kessler's guests for this morning's rerun of Golf Talk Live is an older bloke with the formidable array of chins, Michael Bonallack, Secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. Peter is drawing him out on golfing legend Bobby Jones, of whom the Scots were apparently quite fond. "The last time I saw Jones," says Bonallack, recalling a dinner he and Jones attended at Augusta, "he could only eat soup through a straw, but his mind was razor-sharp."