Golf Channel’s Limbaugh Experiment

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 30, 2010
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Rush Limbaugh

When the Golf Channel went looking for a famous hacker to team up with a famous teacher in an effort to fill its ever-expanding need for programming, the network couldn’t have done any better than Charles Barkley. The former Round Mound of Rebound turned even rounder mound of sound, was the perfect foil for the straight-laced Hank Haney. Barkley worked his incredibly large butt off, filled air time with his natural comedic talent and possessed a reality TV swing that made every viewer feel better about their own game.

Season two saw a better golfer but less engaging Ray Romano exercising his swing and comedic chops on the channel that is always in need of some humor to break up the traditionally staid sport. Romano held his own, but his ability to carry the broadcast was dependent on the audience’s appreciation of his humor.

Year three will prove to be even more challenging.

The Golf Channel has announced that right-wing windbag Rush Limbaugh will be next to tackle Haney’s challenging practice routine while attempting to eliminate strokes - and not audience members.

And that will be the big challenge. Limbaugh loves the game, plays often and will be featured on Golf in America, which is fine. He’ll talk about the game, what it means to him, then move on. The Haney Project is different. While the show boasts the teacher’s name, it is the student who is the star and it is their job to carry the program. The jury is out on whether Limbaugh can handle that critical role. If he can’t, season three may be the beginning of the end.

“The Haney Project is a perfect example of how Golf Channel marries some of the biggest names in entertainment with golf to create fun, edgy programming,” said Tom Stathakes, Golf Channel senior vice president of programming, production and operations on “Rush Limbaugh is a major entertainer and personality, and he shares our passion for the game of golf, which is a great combination.”

Stathakes is correct about Limbaugh’s popularity. He’s big time. But Limbaugh is also a very polarizing figure whom many viewers will refuse to watch. And while Golf Channel may enjoy producing “fun, edgy programming” - which is actually hard to find on the network - it would be wise to remember ESPN’s attempt to shake things up and get edgy. The sports network hired “America’s anchor-man” to add some zest to its Monday Night Football broadcast and what it got was controversy gone amok after Limbaugh said the media was promoting Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb simply because of his race. He and an embarrassed ESPN soon parted company.

Limbaugh’s addition to the lineup is not the only strange programming decision made of late by the network Arnold Palmer helped create. Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf,in which former athletes and celebrities compete for charity as popular culture’s greatest ego offers mind-numbing commentary all in the attempt to promote himself and his courses, is unwatchable. The program is based on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf which began in 1962, and unlike the modern version, paired the likes of Sarazen, Snead, Nicklaus, Player, Nelson, Palmer and Hogan in head-to-head matchups on courses from Athens to Hong Kong and St. Andrews. Now it’s Jerry Rice versus drug addict and ho-bagger Lawrence Taylor, and Mark Wahlberg taking on Kevin Dillen. Or as the Web site says, “The competition is steep. The star-power is huge. And the host is Mr. Donald J. Trump himself.” Yikes!

It’s too early to say the Limbaugh/Haney pairing will be a bust. Limbaugh does have an impressive following, and PGA members are 95 percent Republican, support drilling in the Arctic, hate the inheritance tax, Obama’s health care plan and any putting surface that doesn’t roll as true as a pool table. So there may be some support. But he is also despised, and that’s something the network must be very aware of and monitor with care. Time will tell.


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