• Alistair Tait

The death of golf journalism


Okay maybe the headline is a bit over the top. The patient isn’t quite dead, just in critical care.

Death just seems imminent given what passes for, er, golf journalism these days.

Following on from the Association of Golf Writers’ brilliant book Forgive us our press passes, the AGW has been asking its members to pen their AGW memories. The result is a treasure trove of stories about the days when golf writing consisted of more than 183-word stories.

One hundred and eighty-three words. That’s the word count for a story on a popular golf website I recently clicked on. The story promised much and delivered absolutely nothing. Not one ounce of substance. I felt cheated. It happens a lot. It was obvious the only reason the story was on the site was to act as clickbait. Another page view was all that mattered. Shame.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still good golf writers producing fine, well-written stories for magazines and newspapers. I count many of them as friends. The problem is the number has diminished, and continues to do so.

I’ve worked with some fine golf writers over the years. People who knew the game, its history, its characters, people who got out and watched golf, spoke to the players, the caddies, officials. Great wordsmiths who breathed life into the game. One by one they’ve disappeared. No longer required in what one scribe described as

“The mindless quest to write 220-word drivel posts when this sport lends itself to great storytelling like no other … the sophomoric click-bait crap that is so far off the board.”

Hey, why employ an expert when you can hire someone fresh out of college to “recast” content? That’s not a dig at those doing the recasting. I appreciate some of those might go on to become experts in this great game. Unfortunately, too many are simply passing through and have no passion for the game, such as the recent editor of a popular golf website who asked this question in a meeting: “Who’s Ben Hogan?”

Honestly.

Golf editors with little knowledge of the game? Really?

I hope I’m not coming across as some old “it was better in my day” fogey. I get social media. I’ve embraced it. However, it seems to have taken over. There seems to be a greater need for 280 characters than there is for well-written, 800-1,000 word columns. Golf fans aren’t all clicking 20 year olds, you know.

It’s hard to imagine great golf writers like Peter Dobereiner or Dan Jenkins getting the same space to express themselves nowadays as they did in their prime. The late, great Mel Webb couldn’t have cleared his throat in 183 words. Webb was once one of three golf journalists working for The Times along with John Hopkins and Patricia Davies.

Three golf journalists on one paper! Imagine? Nowadays The Times doesn’t have a full-time, dedicated golf writer.

The AGW memory series reminds me of covering my first Amateur Championship. It was 1994, Nairn. Lee James defeated Gordon Sherry 2&1. Every major British newspaper sent its golf journalist for the entire week.

British newspapers hardly ever send golf writers to cover the Amateur Championship these days. In recent years, I’ve sometimes been one of two golf writers in the media centre.

I fear for the future. Take my homeland. Martin Dempster (Scotsman), Nick Rodger (Herald), Steve Scott (Courier) and Jock MacVicar (Express) do a fantastic job covering the game in Scotland. I fear when they go they won’t be replaced, that those newspapers will go the same way as regional newspapers that used to cover golf so well.

When I arrived in England from Canada, regional newspapers had dedicated golf writers. Alan Booth did a great job for the Herts Advertiser, penning stories on up and coming players. Alan chronicled Nick Faldo’s rise.

Alan’s efforts were mirrored in other parts of England by golf writers who knew their regions well. Falls in advertising revenue and circulation in regional newspapers meant those writers became surplus to requirement. They haven’t been replaced. The game is much poorer as a result.

I fear the same will happen with today’s much smaller pool of golf writers, that one by one they’ll just fade away and not be replaced. I fear for the death of golf journalism.

Still, at least we’ll still have the click bait and the drivel posts.

© 2020 by ALISTAIR TAIT GOLF

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