"We'll probably lose money," says Bailey, "but we're doing it for prestige, to get our name out in front as an entree to advertisers who may want to do other programs. It's a breakthrough for us."
Aside from its expense, the PGA National Tour show raises other problems as well. "Golf is by far the toughest sport to televise live," says Bailey. "If you are doing three or four holes you have to cover a wide territory under all kinds of weather conditions." And the very nature of the game makes it a TV director's nightmare. The crucial action does not unfold in orderly sequence but all over the course and often simultaneously. The director, who is responsible for picking the right picture from a battery of 10 to 15 cameras, does not want to zero in on Joe Obscure while leader Arnold Palmer is sinking a 50-foot putt on the next-to-last hole. To keep mistakes like this at a minimum the producer must employ technicians, cameramen and announcers who have a quick, sharp knowledge of the game and its players. Such people have not proved easy to find.
Sports Network's golf telecasts have not been flawless, but the growing pains have become less and less noticeable to the folks back home, much to Bailey's relief. And Bailey got a tremendous break this year when tournament after tournament had an exciting climax. About nine million viewers saw Doug Sanders hole a 35-foot putt in Pensacola, Fla. in March to beat Jack Nicklaus on the third hole of the longest sudden-death playoff ever shown on national television, saw Dick Mayer hit an approach shot into the cup in New Orleans in May to win a first prize of $20,000, saw Dan Sikes knock in a 35-foot putt in Cleveland in June to edge Tony Lema for a $25,000 win, and saw Billy Casper take a playoff in July in Hartford. This is the kind of thing that SNI likes to get on the air—not a superspectacular, to be sure, but sport at its best nonetheless.
In early December SNI viewers may witness the most intriguing golf telecast of all. The final event of its golf series will be the PGA's first team-play tournament, the $200,000 National Four-Ball Championship at Palm Beach. Bailey is puzzling over how his cameras and his announcers are going to make sense out of an event in which four players will be in each group but paired as two-man teams, where the low score on each hole for each team will count toward a 72-hole medal score and—well, never mind. That is Bailey's problem, and a lot of golf fans will get to see how he solves it. When he does, he can check how he did by applying his own audience test, one that has assured him of the interest in TV golf.
"My driving-range man tells me his place is deserted every time a golf tournament's on TV," he says.
Hm. Does this mean that televised sport is replacing sport itself? If so, blame it on Dick Bailey.