On the morning after The Golf Channel host Peter Kessler criticized the network's co-founder and chairman, Arnold Palmer, on air, he paid Palmer a visit at his offices at Bay Hill Club near the channel's Orlando base. "Man, I heard you were tough on me last night," said Palmer with a grin.
"No," responded Kessler, who on his Oct. 19 Viewer's Forum show had denounced Palmer's endorsement of a nonconforming driver (the ERC II) that Callaway Golf plans to sell domestically. "I was really tough on you."
Known for his smooth interviewing style, Kessler, an eight handicapper who is host of Golf Talk Live and the instructional Academy Live, is nobody's caddie. He has become a figure of integrity on a network whose credibility could potentially be compromised by its near-incestuous relationship with the sport. But by denouncing not only Palmer but also Callaway, a leading advertiser on The Golf Channel, Kessler landed out-of-bounds with management. "I was called into the offices and told it was't my job to give my opinion," says Kessler of his 40-minute dressing-down, which was first reported in Golf World magazine. "Their tone was serious. I was told there were going to be strong repercussions. I read that there wasn't going to be, but no one has confirmed that with me internally."
Sources at The Golf Channel say that Kessler won't be punished beyond the reprimand. The 48-year-old Kessler concedes that his outburst was uncharacteristically emotional. "I came out very passionately against [the ERC II]," he says. "Too much so. I made it personal with Arnold. However, this is an issue central to the integrity of the game. To hear Arnold Palmer come out in favor of that club was so disorienting; it was like hearing the pope say that premarital orgies are O.K."
Kessler has used Viewer's Forum before to opine on issues from Casey Martin's quest to use a golf cart during competition (he also parted company with Palmer on that topic, arguing that Martin be allowed to use a cart) to the U.S. team's behavior at last year's Ryder Cup, which he criticized. After this latest harangue, though, it appears that management prefers he play from the ladies' tees. "I've done about 60,000 minutes on this network," says Kessler, "and I understand if management was displeased with those 10. But this is the first time that the issue of my having an opinion has been raised. Why? Because it's Arnold. Hey, he's the King. He's not God." Kessler says that the displeasure over the Callaway incident won't stanch his flow of opinions.
What does the King think? Last week Palmer told a reporter from The Golf Channel, "I'm not going to speak about this until I go on Golf Talk Live in January." Should make for good television.