(CBS San Francisco) — TPC Harding Park has a special meaning to the people of San Francisco. And with the PGA Championship scheduled to begin tomorrow, it should shine brightly on the national stage as well (chance of fog notwithstanding). Too bad that the municipal course, usually open to anyone who wants to play it, will be closed to fans for the season’s first major.
In-person sports during a pandemic are surreal for those few who are lucky (or unlucky) enough to experience them. “I have been for a few (baseball) games,” says KPIX sports director Dennis O’Donnell. “There’s no life within the stadium, or outside the ropes at a golf tournament, including Harding Park.”
The difference for the average television viewer is much less stark. According to O’Donnell, “when you see it on TV, it’s just the same. I don’t miss the fans. I’m able to focus on all the golf. It’s a beautiful golf course; it will show that way on TV. So, from an outsider’s perspective, it’s going to shine.”
O’Donnell knows the course as well as anyone, having grown up and come of age nearby. “I went to grammar school right at Lake Merced,” O’Donnell reminisces. “I went to college at San Francisco State. And after classes, we would sneak through a fence at Harding Park, play five holes, go back to college. At that time, Harding fell into grave disrepair. And it was Sandy Tatum, who brought Harding back to championship standards. And now it’s a gem of San Francisco. Harding Park has so much history for the locals, because it’s a public course. Everybody can play it. I think that’s what makes this PGA Championship so special.”
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The insiders, those who will be calling the action, have a different perspective on the event. CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo, who’s been calling the action from the studio, has seen a range of responses from players. “We’ve seen some players embrace it, some are still struggling with it. With this now being a major — they’ve had eight weeks of this — it’s not going to come as a shock. I think the intensity, the fact that it is a major, will be amped up.”
The lack of fans on site has led to improvements in the television broadcasts. “The audio has gone to a new level with the absence of fans,” notes CBS Sports golf anchor Jim Nantz. “We’re able to listen in, eavesdrop in on a player and caddie more than ever before.”
That access lends itself to a better understanding of the strategy behind the game. “We’d love to have the fans,” says Nantz. “But we’ve definitely seen the audio quality [of conversations] between the players and caddies improve.”
CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper has experienced the difference up close. And it’s affected her approach to reporting events on the course. “You have to be a little bit more careful about where you stand, the way the wind is blowing,” says Pepper. “You can’t hide up against a wall of fans. You have to be more sensitive to how much you are moving if you’re across the line from a player. You kind of have to have eyes on all sides of your head to not be in a position to disrupt play. But I think we’ve done a remarkable job of patching together through the audio and making on-course and the 18th, 17th and 16th towers be so seamless. Hats off to our technical crew.”
Watch the PGA Championship, Saturday, August 8, 4:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, August 9, 3:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.