Golf Channel Unveils 2013 Programming Lineup and Morning Drive Changes

Mike McCarley, the head of Golf Channel, discusses the 2013 programming for the network.

Mike McCarley, the president of Golf Channel, discusses the 2013 programming for the network.

Orlando, FL – Golf Channel President Mike McCarley announced some of the network’s 2013 lineup of programming Thursday at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Among the announcements were the expected renewal of Feherty for a third season and the next season of The Haney Project with instructor Hank Haney. The additions to the channel’s programming are a new interview show, “In Play” with NBC Sports reporter Jimmy Roberts and some big changes and updates to Morning Drive.

The new season of The Haney Project will feature 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps. The announcement was expected and the show will debut Monday, February 25 at 9pm ET. Phelps is now retired and has stated his desire to improve his golf game. Although it seems his putting is in good shape…

I am lukewarm on The Haney Project, and haven’t watched a full season since Charles Barkley during the first season. I watched the initial season not because of Barkley’s god-awful swing, but rather because Barkley is entertaining. His work on TNT’s NBA coverage and regular radio spots on national shows are fantastic. I doubt I’ll watch Phelps’ attempt to improve, at least not regularly.

The third season of Feherty will premier following The Haney Project at 10pm ET on February 25. Golfchannel.com has a preview of the third season here. Guests include Jack Nicklaus, Bob Knight, Billy Casper, Lee Westwood and Paul Azinger.  This is a fantastic move by Golf Channel. I absolutely love Feherty. Of course, David Feherty is known for his outlandish style and off-the-wall comments. Feherty incorporates the hosts’ trademark style but also manages to put together tremendous interviews that humanize the guests. I can’t wait for the premier.

“In Play” with Jimmy Roberts will be a new interview/storytelling/human interest show featuring the longtime NBC Sports reporter. The preview shown by Golf Channel Thursday featured Roberts interviewing a man imprisoned for a crime he did not commit who has found peace while serving his life sentence because of his artwork. He draws golf course landscapes. Certainly this is an interesting way to start the new show. I think Roberts does great work on the NBC golf broadcasts with his human interest pieces, it’s his strength. I’ll certainly give the show a try to start. Most likely, my viewing will be dictated by my interest in the interview subject. “In Play with Jimmy Roberts” premieres Tuesday, March 12 at 10:30pm ET.

The final announcement was given by Golf Channel Executive Producer Molly Solomon regarding changes for the Morning Drive program. A new schedule, cast, format and set were unveiled. Solomon stated that the show will now air seven days a week, but no indication was given about the length of the show which currently airs live from 7-9am ET and re-airs immediately afterward Monday through Wednesday. The show had been a cast of three; two co-hosts and an update anchor. Recently the show has expanded to a third co-host but now will include four hosts and an anchor. The re-launch of Morning Drive is set for Monday, February 4.

Morning Drive originals Gary Williams and Holly Sonders will remain on the show in similar roles, Williams as the lead host and Sonders as the update anchor. Joining Williams and Sonders on the Thursday-Monday “A-team” (my words, not Golf Channel’s) will be Damon Hack, who had already been the co-host to Williams for the previous few months, Matt Ginella, formerly the Travel Editor of Golf Digest who officially joined Golf Channel two weeks ago, and analyst Charlie Rymer.

The Tuesday-Wednesday “B-team” features Golf Central anchor Kelly Tilghman (who will continue that role as well), Lauren Thompson in the update anchor role, World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, Champions Tour player John Cook (absent from the announcement given his recent win on the Champions Tour in Hawaii), and Ahmad Rashad (nope, not a typo).

The new cast of Morning Drive clockwise from the top: Charlie Rymer, Annika Sorenstam, Lauren Thompson, Matt Ginella, Kelly Tilghman, Ahmad Rashad, Gary Williams, Holly Sonders, Damon Hack.

The new cast of Morning Drive clockwise from the top: Charlie Rymer, Annika Sorenstam, Lauren Thompson, Matt Ginella, Kelly Tilghman, Ahmad Rashad, Gary Williams, Holly Sonders, Damon Hack.

Molly Solomon did say that the cast would be fluid, indicating that the individual members would likely work with each other in different groupings. However, the “A-team” (again, my words, not their’s) will be on-air Thursday through Monday during the days of tournament action, while the “B-team” will host “on weekdays,” mostly Tuesday and Wednesday.

Also announced was a change in the format of the show along with a brand new, larger set. Here are the pictures of the new set:

The main desk where the four hosts will sit to discuss the day's topics, not unlike the old format.

The main desk where the four hosts will sit to discuss the day’s topics, not unlike the old format.

This area will also serve as a discussing place. The fifth chair will be for the update anchor who will be a part of discussions here.

This area will also serve as a discussing place. The fifth chair will be for the update anchor who will be a part of discussions here.

Another part of the set whose purpose was not clearly defined by Molly Solomon.

Another part of the set whose purpose was not clearly defined by Molly Solomon.

The program will feature discussions of the news topics in golf as well as other trends including equipment (a demo area will be on the set as well), fashion and travel. During the round table discussion among the cast, Williams indicated that Sonders’ will role will increase, alluding to the five-chair-area and how that will be incorporated in the show. It was also announced that Tim Rosaforte, Brandel Chamblee and Jimmy Roberts will continue to contribute to the show.

I’m certainly interested to see how these personalities will meld over time. Here are my thoughts on the individual cast members:

  • Gary Williams: Some say he comes off as a country-club snob in his Peter Millar sweaters. I disagree. I think Williams is the cast member with whom I’d most like to play a round of golf. He’s quick-witted and not a afraid to give the needle to anyone on the set, including himself. He quipped at the announcement that he’ll have a brand new toupee for the new set. Williams is also no slouch when it comes to golf knowledge. He shows great command of the game’s history and as a former PGA professional he can give swing analysis and speak to golf business topics with ease. Williams is as solid as a Ben Crenshaw-struck putt (his favorite golfer growing up) and will transition easily to the new format.
  • Damon Hack-The former Sports Illustrated Golf/NFL writer joined Golf Channel in August and was almost immediately inserted as Williams’ unofficial co-host. Hack has been a regular on the show for several months and continues to improve with his on-air skills, but isn’t quite there yet. He seems at ease laughing with the others and giving opinions, but when it comes to transitioning between topics or in and out of breaks, he’s still a bit rough. For Hack’s sake, I hope the new format allows him to discuss topics and give opinions and keep the traffic directing to others.
  • Charlie Rymer: When Molly Solomon introduced Rymer Thursday, she said that Morning Drive had never had a full-time analyst. Rymer comes aboard to fill that role, which will be especially helpful on weekend shows when tournament action is being discussed. Charlie likes to play the clown and talk about food (check his twitter feed) which can wear a bit thin, but underneath is a sneaky-good analyst. On Golf Central, the network’s news show, Rymer often cites statistics to make his points support his analysis and doesn’t sugar-coat his assessment of poor play from anyone on tour. Never forgot this, Charlie Rymer went to college at Georgia Tech, so he can’t be that dumb.
  • Holly Sonders: There is no denying that Holly Sonders is an attractive woman who draws eyeballs to the screen. She’s more than eye candy though. Her golf pedigree is stout as a former All-American golfer at Michigan State. She also co-hosts the instructional show School of Golf on Golf Channel. Gary Williams hinted that Sonders’ role will increase in the new format. I am curious about her opinions on golf too, since she has not had the opportunity to give many.
  • Matt Ginella: The first wildcard. Ginella guest-hosted during the U.S. Open last year and was not bad, but seemed a bit muted. On Twitter, Ginella certainly gives good opinions, and his two week run on Morning Drive has been solid, if not spectacular. It was hinted, but not clearly stated that Ginella will be hosting Monday-Friday. My biggest question is this: how will his role as a travel writer/specialist affect his role on a daily TV show? Is “Matty G” going to take extended leaves to explore Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links and Streamsong?
  • Kelly Tilghman: The Golf Central and Live From the Majors anchor joins Morning Drive as a weekday host in addition to her other anchoring duties. Tilghman is a pro who can certainly direct the conversation and easily transition to breaks. She did a great job anchoring MSNBC’s coverage of the London Olympics and will probably be great in this role too.
  • Lauren Thompson: The host of the ranking show Top 10 and travel show Golf Now is an excellent choice as the second update anchor. Thompson’s responsibilities will likely mirror Sonders’ and don’t expect to see them on the same days.
  • Annika Sorenstam: Arguably the greatest female golfer ever, Sorenstam has been a contributor to Morning Drive on a once-a-week basis since its inception. The issue with her is that she comes across as too reserved. Certainly Sorenstam’s Hall of Fame career speaks for itself. But on TV, she is quiet and often seems unwilling to give a strong opinion. This is certainly consistent with her personality over the years. However, it doesn’t translate into good TV.
  • John Cook: The only cast member absent from the announcement, Cook’s appearances on the show will be the most limited, as he is still a full-time player on the Champions Tour. His role was described as being on the show mostly during big event weeks and when his playing schedule is open.
  • Ahmad Rashad: The second wildcard. Rashad played football at Oregon and in the NFL, covered the NFL and NBA for NBC Sports and ABC Sports, and is now hosting a golf morning show. This is the only choice that I don’t understand. Like original co-host Erik Kuselias, Rashad is not a golf expert and has little to no background in the game (but at least he plays the game, unlike Kuselias). Rashad is, however, very close with Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Perhaps the show’s producer are hoping that Rashad’s presence can pull an extra interview or two with the elusive Woods (not likely to happen). Perhaps more likely, is that Ahmad Rashad is an injection of diversity (along with Hack). Golf constantly fights the stigma of being an elitist game for rich white men. Rashad (a rich black man, just for the record) might help to pull in new demographics. Certainly he is a recognizable name outside of golf, which no one else on the cast is. When Rashad co-hosted Morning Drive a few months ago, I was not impressed. He did not seem sharp nor was he well-informed on golf issues. The latter issue harkens back to the Kuselias experiment. Pairing Rashad with Kelly Tilghman on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is smart though. She can certainly help to steer the conversation as she is quite adept at setting up analysts in her other duties for the network.

As a whole, I don’t find anyone currently on Morning Drive or any of the new cast members to be unlikeable, which I cannot say for original co-host Erik Kuselias (the best move Morning Drive ever made was getting rid of him).  Most of the cast has a strong background in golf, or in the case of Thompson has at least been a personality on Golf Channel for a few years. The exception of course is Rashad. I think there are some good ideas at work here, particularly because the shows has a hard time maintaining my interest right now, and I’m a hardcore golf fan (the type who gets up at 3am to watch European Tour coverage…sometimes).

Solomon stated that she intends to make Morning Drive the “Today Show of golf.” While this is a lofty goal, hopefully this re-launch will start by making the show more accessible to casual golf fans, and even non-golfers. Solomon also stated, to no surprise, that the fact that golf tournaments are played Thursday-Sunday drove the decision to be on-air seven days a week. Damon Hack added that he hopes the show can be like a pregame show for tournament coverage, in the same vain as ESPN’s College Gameday. The last time I checked, The Today Show and College Gameday couldn’t be more different. With the roundtable-plus-cushy-chair set I’m thinking the executives will (at least initially) mold Morning Drive to resemble Today more than Gameday. I am certainly interested to see what these changes will bring to the show. Moreover, will these changes breed immediate success, take some time to work out kinks or be an abject failure. Only time will tell, I’ll give them until The Masters (that’s about two months) to figure things out.

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6 responses to “Golf Channel Unveils 2013 Programming Lineup and Morning Drive Changes

  1. Pingback: Your Questions About Golf Channel | Indoor Putting Greens·

  2. I watch Morning Drive on a regular basis. Keep hearing about the advantage of anchoring the long putter. If it is an advantage, why don’t they all use it. Stop whinning and get one yourself if you think it helps.

  3. Ahmad is horrible…constantly interrupting others with stupid, silly comments. Charlie Rymer and John Cook are very good for Pro’s, most are introverts by nature…

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