PGA looks to gain new fans with golf docuseries

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If you’ve been waiting your whole life to get a behind-the-scenes look at the riveting world of golf, your wait is over. Netflix has announced that they’ll be producing a PGA Tour docuseries in the style of the popular Formula One: Drive to Survive reality show that premiered in 2019.

Drive to Survive had an enormous effect on American F1 viewership, a remarkable feat in a sport that has only one American team and no American drivers. The drama, the narratives, the rivalries — the show gave a personalized appeal to a sport that was extremely foreign, both figuratively and literally.

So it’s probably safe to assume that the PGA Tour is hoping that their new Netflix show will have the same effect of drawing in outsiders to the sport and driving up ratings. The show reportedly plans to feature golfers including Brooks Koepka Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood and Bubba Watson, all of whom are household names if you’re in a household that watches golf. But it feels like there’s a hitch in this plan — golf isn’t, by nature, an exciting sport.

This isn’t to say it’s a bad or boring sport. It can be exciting to watch, fun to play, enjoyable to follow. But the point of this series is, according to the PGA’s Chief Media Officer Rick Anderson, “an opportunity to tap into a completely new and diverse audience.”

No one’s going to deny that the existing golf audience isn’t exactly diverse. But unlike F1, which has a universal appeal in that it taps into the human rush of adrenaline, golf is a pretty tame and slow sport. No contact, no speed, nothing that more “mainstream” (football, basketball, etc) sports fans can really grab onto as something they’re already interested in.

Again, I’m not saying that golf can’t be exciting. But as we get to a point where Tiger Woods, who completely revamped interest in the sport in the late 90s and 2000s, is scaling back his Tour appearances, the PGA is aware that it needs a new way to bring in the younger generation whose knowledge of golf largely rests upon their memories of the Tiger cheating scandal of their youth, as seen on tabloid covers at a Stop and Shop near you. The HBO Max two-part Tiger documentary did a great job of showing how Tiger transformed the sport, but it was also able to do that thanks to public interest in Woods’ off-the-course misdeeds.

For a show like this to succeed, particularly without the high-speed races and exciting risks and rivalries of Drive to Survive, it’s going to need to center around some really strong and interesting characters. Sending a risky putt down the green to make par doesn’t have the same natural appeal as, say, racing at 200-plus mph, especially for outside viewers unfamiliar with either the sport or the professional golf scene. There’s no golf equivalent to Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash.

It’s going to be a challenge for the producers, particularly if viewers and executives are expecting a similar success and energy to what Drive to Survive has seen so far. Aside from Tiger’s possible comeback, the best thing for garnering new interest in the sport in the last few years has been the Brooks Koepka-Bryson DeChambeau rivalry, but the latter hasn’t been mentioned as being part of the cast of the show. Noticeably (and unsurprisingly), neither have Woods or Phil Mickelson.

As the show is being filmed throughout this PGA Tour season, it likely won’t see our screens until late this year or early 2023. Without the natural excitement that F1 brings, my main concern with this show is that it’s going to be over-produced — although, aren’t all reality shows? But I can almost see the forced drama, the edited plot lines, the search for an audience that might not be coming. On a more positive note, the show negotiated access to all four Majors, which will be a major pull for current fans. We’re a long way out from seeing the final product, but I’ll be interested to see if they’re able to keep fans on the edge of their golf carts.

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