News & Opinion

You can watch Masters all day, but it won’t be easy

We’d characterize it as a point of frustration for Masters viewers, although infuriation might be closer to the truth.

Every year, as the world becomes more wired in its TV options, the network coverage emanating from golf’s biggest tournament produces a smaller trickle than a ball toppling into Rae’s Creek.

No question, officials at Augusta National Golf Club love clean lines and a minimalist approach – reflected in the absence of corporate signage and a nearly commercial-free TV broadcast on ESPN and CBS in the U.S. But when compared with the wall-to-wall coverage offered from the U.S. and British opens, the void is so large and empty, there’s almost an echo.

Some say Masters tickets are the hardest to secure in all of sports, but following it as a viewer from home isn’t all that easy, either. Thursday and Friday represent the least-fulfilling broadcast days of the season for those watching from home.

For a club that continually blows its horn about growing the game, it’s counterintuitive to millions that the network TV coverage of the first two rounds is limited to 4 1/2 hours, starting at 3 p.m. EDT, by which time many top players will be well into the back nine. For instance, in the first round, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day tee off before 11 a.m., local time.

With dawn-to-dusk coverage offered elsewhere, adding hours to the broadcast window has long been a point of contention and seemingly would help grow the game, too.

“We've been talking about that. Earliest thing I read about that was 55 years ago,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said recently.

He was only partly kidding. Regardless of the club’s outdated less-is-more edict, for fans willing to invest the time and energy to actively track players online and elsewhere, there is a growing array of Masters broadcast workarounds available. 

For those willing to channel surf and cobble together coverage by jumping live streams, it will be possible to monitor certain players during much of the back nine, before the network coverage starts at 3 p.m. Words to the wise: It might be a great time to change the battery in your remote control and wireless mouse (all times are Eastern):

·      DirecTV again will air separate coverage of Amen Corner, holes 15 and 16, and coverage of select feature groups on channels 701 through 705.

·      The same video feeds are available at CBSSports.com and on the club’s Masters.com site. Featured groups, selected by club officials seemingly with limited regard to fan interest, will be shown all day, from 9:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Bill Macatee and Davis Love III, a longtime Masters contender and two-time Ryder Cup captain, will anchor the feature-group coverage.

·      Amen Corner coverage runs from 10:45 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the stream from Nos. 15 and 16 is set for 11:45 a.m. to 7 p.m.

·      In addition, the Masters.com site offers a daily stream from the Augusta practice range from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Thursday andFriday. CBS Sports Network picks up the feed from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Live interviews from prominent players during warmups, including two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson and defending champion Danny Willett, were included Wednesday.

·      For those without Internet access or DirecTV, ESPN’s ubiquitous SportsCenter is the only television portal offering actual golf shots on Thursday and Friday before the 3 p.m. TV window. There will be reports from Augusta multiple times per hour, including updates and highlights.  

Some caveats apply: Much of the Masters.com fare will stream in 4K, which could cause pipeline congestion for those with lower Internet speeds or watching on cellphones, but at least there are multiple portals from which to choose. Even with intermittent online video available on select holes, it’s possible that some first-round leaders won’t hit a shot during ESPN’s live broadcast.

For as far as the Masters has come of late – finally changing its archaic membership rules, for instance – part of its popularity stems from a tradition-based, timeless appeal. However, while it annually delivers the best Nielsen ratings of any major championship, it still offers TV viewers far too many hors d’oeuvres and not enough of the entrée.

As for today and Friday’s coverage, happy clicking.

Steve Elling has covered golf for the Orlando Sentinel, CBSSports.com and numerous other global print and online outlets. Email: ellingink@gmail.com; Twitter: @EllingYelling