“It’s just like riding a bike”
I am 66 years old and spent more than two thirds of those years working in television. Mostly sports and of those sports, mainly golf. I “sat in the chair” and produced hundreds of golf tournaments for television. First and the local level, then nationally at ESPN, and finally for 18 years at The Golf Channel. The last time I was responsible for what golf shots people at home watched was September of 2013. The event was United States Women’s Amateur Championship at The Country Club of Charleston.
Then I retired. I wrote books (5 of them now and the sixth is what they call a WIP). Books you can buy here www.keithhirshland.com thanks. Between and around the works of fiction I was lucky enough during the past 8 years to be asked back to work on several projects but never to produce. That was until October of last year. A former colleague, and still friend, Scott Kazakewich sent me an email (or was it a message on Facebook) asking if I would be interested in producing a live golf tournament again. Scott is in charge of all of the tournament production for the Asian Tour, has been for a decade, but he was part of our live tournament production team at The Golf Channel for years. The tournament turned out to be an Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia.
After some deliberation I said yes. Several factors went into that decision including:
I was happy to help a friend.
I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia and I probably wouldn’t ever go on my own.
My wife was going to be out of the country at the same time.
So, off I went.
As I mentioned, the tournament was The Saudi International. Recently a part of the Asian Tour schedule it would be the biggest event that tour ever staged and the most controversial. Early on word spread that the PGA TOUR and the European Tour (I know it’s the DP WORLD Tour now but come on) would prohibit its member players from competing. Everybody with half a brain knew that wasn’t going to stick so defending champion Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Bubba Watson, Ian Poulter, and dozens more were in the final field. It was going to be one of the most, if not the most, star-studded full field event I had ever produced.
To say things have changed in the world of golf production in the eight years since I did it last would be a gross understatement. Mainly due to technology and a pandemic the machinations behind the production were markedly different. That said my approach to producing the event stayed stubbornly the same. Show as many players and shots as possible on Thursday and Friday, avoid tap ins, and tell the story on the weekend. I admit I used to watch a lot of golf on tv but doing that has become less and less interesting to me over the past handful of years. I still tune in to watch if I know friends, and former teammates, including Jerry Foltz, Curt Byrum, or Kay Cockerill are on the show but that’s one of the only reasons why I watch now. But to prepare for the Saudi show I watched (thanks to a recording because I’m not staying up until 2 AM for ANYTHING any more) a couple of Scott’s Asian Tour productions. My first reaction was that they were well done and my second was there is no way I was going to be able to pronounce many of those names. I mean, say Suradit Yongcharoenchai three times fast. But I digress. It was Denver to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Riyadh, Riyadh to Jeddah, then an hour car ride to the hotel.
I mentioned the controversy swirling around the tournament and allow me to address that now. Much and I mean MUCH was made in the golf press as a whole, and #golftwitter specifically, about the moral aspects of professional golfers accepting money and invites to play in a golf tournament sponsored by and played in Saudi Arabia. Adding fuel to the fire was the accelerant that was Greg Norman. He’s in the midst of starting a rival golf league that has the major tours, and golf media, up in arms. That league has very little to do with the Asian Tour. The little it does have to do with it is $$$. Norman was the face behind a previous $2 Million investment in the Asian Tour and he was on site this particular week alongside Asian Tour Commissioner/CEO Cho Minn Thant and that tour’s best player Joohyung Kim to announce an additional$1 Million in support. Question Mr. Norman’s motives all you want but it doesn’t change the fact that the investment is life changing money for that tour and its players and a real boon to golf around the world.
But let’s get back to the real reason I decided to write this. It’s a letter of appreciation to Scott, his higherups at the Asian Tour, and the incredible crew that worked the event. I have subscribed to an important philosophy my entire career… You are only as good as the people with whom you surround yourself. And those people, that week in Saudi Arabia, were top shelf. It was great to be reunited with Mel Hundley and Rob Gunter (two of the best in the business) but it was also a treat to work with Mark and Simon and Szu Wei and Steve and Paul and Sharon and Aditha and another Simon and Nick and Toby and Ryan and Steve and Tox (who graciously played Pat Green for me before every show) and Qui Lim and Ranish and Raz and the dozens of others who are worthy of mention. They were professional, remarkable, passionate, and most of all they made the week fun.
No one more than Scott. When I first met Scott Kazakewich he was a young, energetic, curious, talented, but somewhat goofy, kid. Now he is an energetic, curious, talented, young man. Sure, he’s still somewhat goofy but that is part of his charm. What he has accomplished in his career and what he has done for the Asian Tour is inspiring. When he wasn’t afforded a well-deserved opportunity in tv golf stateside he took a chance and moved to Singapore. Boy did that pay off. He was my director and hand holder at The Saudi International and he did an outstanding job at both.
The other group that deserves my unending appreciation is the announce team of Dougie Donnelly, Dom Boulet, Kate Burton, Anthony Kang, and Tim Low. I have had the great privilege to work with some of the world’s best announcers (Scully, Musberger, Anderson, Lerner, and more) and Mr. Donnelly goes right on that list. He is legendary in Scotland and now I know why. He led a superb team. Maybe it’s because I grew used to the mostly American voices that populate tv golf here or maybe it was because this team was that good but I found them to be an incredibly easy listen. Pet peeve alert Even if they did talk too much at times 😊. I would relish another chance to work with any and/or all of them again.
We were what is called the World Feed for the event. If you watched stateside you watched it on Golf Channel but other people in various points all over the world watched our work on whatever network carries golf in their homeland. That changed the way I had to think about what I was doing. Basically, we never went to commercial. I counted the announcers down to a “layout” which meant they stopped talking for a second or two but then we kept on keeping on. That second or two allowed “the world” to go to break. When they came back to the broadcast minutes later there’s no telling where I was in the show. It could have been right before Dustin Johnson teed off or right in the middle of Ratchanon Chantananuwat’s ball in flight. I have no idea what it looked like back home but one of these days I’ll watch the recording.
I would say it was mission accomplished for all four days and the fact that it was one of the most exciting finishes of this, or any other, year certainly helped. The tournament came down to a duel between Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III. Bubba, playing a couple of groups ahead on Sunday birdied the 71st hole then made eagle on the 72nd to take a two shot lead. But HV III still had the drivable par 4 17th and the reachable par 5 18th to play. He made easy birdie on 17 and drove it well on the last. His second shot ended up just in front of the green 92 paces from the hole, the trophy, and a million dollar first place check. At that time, we were all expecting a playoff so I was instructing Mel and Mark and Simon and Ranish to prepare for that. Then, by golly, Harold made the darn putt for eagle and the win. Pandemonium broke out on the green (Varner’s caddie leapt into his arms, Bubba raced from the practice tee to the 18th green to congratulate the winner, and we were cuing up replays and reactions from every angle we could find. For a few hours at least all the controversy around the event turned into a celebration of an amazing win.
I had a blast. I will admit I was nervous. Every. Day. But thanks to Scott and the aforementioned great team I managed to produce a compelling telecast. I will admit producing live golf is, as always has been,exhausting. I guess if you do it right it should be. Will I do it again? Don’t know. First someone has to ask (definitely not a given) and then the stars would have to align (much like they did this time). But regardless of whether I do it another time THIS time was something I will never forget. Thanks Scott.