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Dec 29th, 2015

Changing of the guard

Golf Channel President reports new interest in golf.

Golf Channel president, Mike McCarley, has reported that the changing of the guard at the top of professional golf is already having a positive impact in terms of bringing in younger viewers.

"2015 is going to match the highest-rated year ever on Golf Channel, matching 2013, the year in which Tiger won five times," McCarley told Reuters in an interview.

That was 20-year-old Golf Channel's previous high-water mark in terms of television ratings, drive by Woods, who won five of 16 tournaments he played in 2013 and was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for an incredible eleventh time.

The rise of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler to join Rory McIlroy in golf's elite has captured the attention of golf viewers, just as Tiger has been on the wane.

"Looking back, 2015 may have been the changing of the guard," said McCarley. The next era for golf is likely to contrast with the reign of Woods, who dominated the game and carried fan interest on his shoulders, and McCarley sensed that a new age of rivalries was looming.

"These are young players who are going to be around for 20 years and it will take some time for them to build their fan bases," he said. "We're on the very leading edge of this trip, but we're seeing the momentum build significantly."

Spieth got the 2015 major championship season off to a flying start with his decisive win at the Masters, and followed that with victory at the U.S. Open two months later.

The Texan, who is now aged 22, made a run at winning a third in a row, finishing one shot out of a playoff at the British Open and then was runner-up to 28-year-old Day of Australia at the PGA Championship.

Fowler, 27, joined the party with a playoff victory at The Players Championship, while four-time major winner McIlroy will be back at full strength after being sidelined in midseason by an ankle injury sustained playing soccer.

"I think rivalries are great for the game," the Golf Channel chief said. "Sports are driven by stars, but when you have stars who also have rivals and they are battling it out on a regular basis I think it can be really, really compelling."

The 2015 first quarter ratings for Golf Channel were down 14 percent compared to the year before, but momentum shifted with Spieth's win at the Masters.

The second quarter showed a gain of 3 percent over the year before and grew to an increase of 8 percent in the next quarter before booming to a 13 percent year-ago gain in the last period.

McCarley noted a competitive parallel in the women's game with the rise of 18-year-old Lydia Ko of New Zealand as world number one and a natural rivalry with American Lexi Thompson, the 20-year-old world number four.

"Looking ahead, 2016 is shaping up as a transformational year for the game of golf," he said.

McCarley also pointed to golf's return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 at next year's Rio Games.

"You have to look at the Olympics as a real opportunity for the game of golf, a long-term opportunity," said McCarley, whose channel will broadcast the men's and women's Olympic tournaments live in their entirety.

"I think the Olympics in Rio will start spreading a seed for the global growth of the game," he said.

"Countries are developing junior golf programs, grass roots programs they would never have developed if not for golf being included in the Olympic program.

"You're going to start seeing kids in countries who never wanted to pick up a golf club and now they do."

We hope McCarley is right. Golf needs a shot in the arm, and with a whole bunch of new talent now at the top we think the game is going to be totally refreshed. Bring on 2016 we say! 

TAGS: Changing Of The Golf Guard, News, 2015, Golf Channel, The Olympics