Live golf is returning to television providing networks with the opportunity to tap into what’s proven to be a hungry sports audience while raising money for COVID-19 relief.
That will tee-off with the TaylorMade Driving Relief $3 million charity skins event on May 17, which is supported by UnitedHealth Group. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy and 20-time PGA TOUR winner Dustin Johnson will headline one of the two-person teams, with Oklahoma State University alumni Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff – the 2019 NCAA champion – making up the second pair. McIlroy and Johnson will play for the American Nurses Foundation while Fowler and Wolff will golf for the CDC Foundation.
“With the right safety measures, golf is uniquely positioned to successfully follow social distancing guidelines, and our PGA TOUR partners deserve credit for this innovative approach to bringing live golf back on television,” Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon said. “As we’ve seen with the NFL Draft and The Last Dance, fans are longing for new narratives to latch on to within the sports landscape, and we’re looking forward to filling that void with TaylorMade Driving Relief and a return to live golf.”
The NFL draft drew a record-setting number of viewers across all three days of its coverage in April, while The Last Dance Michael Jordan docuseries premiered as ESPN’s most-watched documentary content ever after averaging 6.1 million viewers for episodes 1 and 2 across the network’s flagship station and ESPN2.
The broadcast will be produced by PGA TOUR Entertainment and include a handful of NBC Sports on-air talent. Solomon said all personnel on-site, from the players to the production crew, will be subject to a variety of screening procedures, including questionnaires, temperature checks, and COVID-19 testing. Players will walk the course without caddies to contain the number of individuals involved and adhere to CDC social distancing guidelines.
With the personnel limited and fans absent, the production team will rely on the players themselves to carry the excitement of the event.
“The lack of fans will be noticeable, along with the void in ambient noise and atmosphere they provide,” Solomon said. “However, given that the broadcast will focus on only four players – versus 140-some at a typical PGA TOUR event – that will allow for some unique opportunities like enhanced audio inside-the-ropes through mic’ing up each of the four players, as well as the rare ability to show every single shot over the course of the competition.”
The competition will be played at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., marking the course’s first-ever appearance on live television. While the players and the game are the visual focus of the event, the partners and producers behind the participants hope the fundraising efforts for COVID-19 relief remain top of mind.
“We anticipate the competition to be an exciting element of the broadcast, but we’re also looking forward to putting a spotlight on the impact of organizations like the American Nurses Foundation and CDC Foundation, both of which are being supported through this event by UnitedHealth Group,” Solomon said. “We’re also looking forward to a handful of special guests that are expected to call-in during the broadcast.”
Each team will start with $500,000 for their respective foundations from UnitedHealth Group. Additional money will be raised at each hole, with donation amounts progressing alongside the course itself.
“UnitedHealth Group is honored to be the supporting partner of an event raising money for COVID-19 relief while helping bring live sports back to the U.S. in a safe and responsible way,” Allen Hermeling, senior vice president of marketing at UnitedHealth Group, said.
Farmers Insurance has also pledged $1 million for a birdies-and-eagle pool to benefit Off Their Plate, a charitable organization helping COVID-19 healthcare workers and impacted frontline shift employees. Building upon the corporate fundraising of $4 million, viewers can contribute to the fundraising efforts through online donations and Text-to-Give options in partnership with GoFundMe.
UnitedHealth Group saw the event as an opportunity to support McIlroy, who has served as an Optum Health Ambassador since 2018, as well as the communities most impacted by COVID-19 while reaching a sizable at-home audience. Optum is a subsidiary of UHG.
“When Team Rory approached us with this opportunity to join Rory, NBC, and the PGA Tour to meet the moment, it felt like a natural extension to the work we’d done together, and we were excited to help,” Hermeling said. “We hope the pent up demand for live sports drives high levels of viewership and engagement and, in turn, awareness and fundraising for worthy organizations.”
UnitedHealth Group’s $3 million donation is part of nearly $75 million contributed to COVID-19 related causes since the onset of the pandemic.
GOLF Channel will also carry live pre-and post-event coverage on Golf Central, airing immediately before the broadcast and immediately after. The event will be broadcast on GOLF and NBC and can be streamed live via PGA TOUR LIVE, GOLFPASS and online on the GOLF Channel.
Another similar event will follow on May 24, as golf is one of the few live sports that can readily get back in action in a safe, limited setting. The Match: Champions for Charity will pit Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning. It will be broadcast across four networks – TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN – and similarly raise funds for COVID-19 relief.