Greg Hansen: Ex-Cat gives Golf Channel a makeover

2013-02-22T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Ex-Cat gives Golf Channel a makeoverGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It is 8:30 a.m., and my hands are really cold. My shoes are muddy. Water from melting snow drips from the top of an NBC trailer onto my neck.

This is golf?

I am supposed to meet Mike McCarley, president of the Golf Channel, but instead I walk into a crowded trailer in which eight men sit on sofas, each of them instantly recognizable to anyone who knows the difference between Bubba and Boo.

Roger Maltbie. Frank Nobilo. Jimmy Roberts. Peter Jacobsen.

This isn't the Hooters Tour.

NBC and Golf Channel, which are essentially one and the same, brought 250 employees, 100,000 feet of cable, four 18-wheelers, 38 cameras and one blimp to Dove Mountain. On Thursday morning, the whole production was on ice, gummed up by a once-every-20-years snowstorm.

"I grew up in Memphis and I chose to attend the UA because of the sunshine," says McCarley. "It's pretty ironic that when I come back to my old stomping grounds it's snowing."

Snow is about the only thing that stops McCarley any more. His winged rise through the ranks, from unpaid volunteer in the UA's sports information office to command of the vast NBC/Golf Channel division, has been a game-changer.

Remember the tired old Golf Channel, a one-man show, Peter Kessler droning on and on and on, day after day, a better nap-aid than any pharmaceutical?

Now it's got 3,300 hours of live golf and 2,000 hours of golf news every year. It's got a morning show, a comedy show (well, David Feherty) and, coming next month, a 60 Minutes-type series, "In Play." It has the deepest bench of analysts, instructors, studio hosts and assorted golf experts in the business. It's not even close.

CBS can't keep up, and ESPN doesn't try.

"Mike's been good for us," says distinguished NBC Sports golf producer Tommy Roy, a Salpointe Catholic grad. "And it's not bad to have another Wildcat on the scene."

McCarley is still just a kid in TV years, 38, rising to the top much the same way Roy did 30 years earlier when he was a UA student who volunteered to fetch coffee, or whatever, for the network TV guys at the old Tucson Open.

"When I graduated from Arizona, I started sending out applications and making phone calls," McCarley remembers. "My college girlfriend's former babysitter's husband knew someone from the Lakers. It was through that connection I was introduced to someone from the Dallas Mavericks."

How about this for a career path: Dallas Mavericks PR staff, to the USA Triathlon staff, to the U.S. Olympic Committee, to head of NBC's Olympic communications division, to VP for NBC Sports marketing/advertising, and in 2011, to chief of Golf Channel.

Have you been impressed by the branding and execution of NBC's Sunday Night Football? That's McCarley's baby. It's to the NFL what Monday Night Football used to be. He had worked on what he calls "a grand scale" at the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and the Super Bowl, but Sunday Night Football became his signature achievement.

Now McCarley is steering Golf Channel and NBC's golf coverage in a similar evolution; the network is no longer predictable nor, frankly, stale. It has become edgy. Is that the right word in golf?

In two years on the job, McCarley has helped base ratings go from 70,000 in a 24-hour period to 95,000. Gone are those who talked golf but didn't seem to know a 3-iron from a 60-degree wedge, and I'm not necessarily picking on Inga Hammond here.

"I had been a fan of Golf Channel coverage, but I was what our research people call a 'lapsed' golfer," says McCarley, whose come-to-the-golf-gods moment occurred, appropriately enough, at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

He watched as Rich Lerner, Notah Begay III and Brandel Chamblee handled an on-the-scene morning show from fog-shrouded Monterey Bay and was intrigued with both the content and the look.

"I called my boss in at NBC in New York, Dick Ebersol, and said 'Are you watching this?' It was exactly as a viewer what I wanted to watch. That stuck with me. I want to deliver that type of experience to our audience."

After today's play at Dove Mountain, Golf Channel will broadcast a third "State of the Game" special from a platform erected near the player's putting green. Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo, among others, will chat about the industry of golf, 2013. It'll be cold out there, but the gloves will be off.

Golf Channel has evolved from a bunch of old guys sitting on the couch, watched by a few nap-time country clubbers, to John Daly hitting a drive off a tee pinched between Feherty's teeth.

Piped straight down the middle.

Contact reporter Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @GHansen711.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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