Golf Channel goes from niche to global

In two decades, the all-golf channel has grown and blossomed



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SILVIS, Ill. — Many a cable television network probably seemed like a risky venture in the beginning.

Food Network? The Weather Channel? Big Ten Network?

What do you think a lot of people said in January 1995 when something called Golf Channel debuted? Twenty-four hours a day of golf? Did even avid golf fans want such a thing?

But like the aforementioned other networks, Golf Channel found its way. Today and Friday, it will handle three hours of live coverage of the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic here, as well as 90 minutes Saturday and Sunday before CBS airs three hours of the JDC those days.

“When were first went on the air, we were one big happy family of people who left other jobs to take a chance on a startup network, to cover a niche sport 24 hours a day,” said Brian Hammons, who is anchoring Golf Channel’s coverage of the Deere this week.

Hammons has been with the network from the start. He co-anchored the first program, the “Golf Central” studio show that still is a Golf Channel staple. He anchored the show for several years, then segued into becoming the network’s anchor at PGA Tour and Champions Tour events.

“We weren’t being seen by very many people in the beginning,” Hammons said, “but it didn’t matter to us. We were having a great time doing something that had never been done before.”

But, Hammons added, “Our timing was impeccable. Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996. We were able to ride his coattails as the game grew. He made golf cool. We chronicled Tiger every step of the way.”

The big break for the network that has a long-running series called “Big Break” was when the PGA Tour signed a deal with Golf Channel that gave it early-round coverage of PGA Tour events from 2007 through 2021.

“We were already legitimate by then in a lot of people’s eyes,” Hammons said. “But that really put us over the top. With Thursday and Friday coverage of the PGA Tour and weekend lead-in coverage, we were one-stop shopping now.”

Golf Channel merged with NBC Sports in 2011 and is now part of NBC Sports Group. It is in more than 83 million homes in the U.S. and over 120 million homes worldwide. That’s some reach for a network covering a “niche sport.”

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