While the Ryder Cup currently receives extensive TV coverage, this event was largely ignored by American TV networks for many years. Here is a summary of my research on the evolution of Ryder Cup TV coverage by US networks. I compiled this primarily from various newspaper archives.
Note: The above link takes you to a section of the506 which contains detailed TV schedules and announcers for these Ryder Cups (free registration required to view). The hours listed represent the scheduled TV coverage.
The lean early years
The 1959 Ryder Cup was the first one televised in the US as NBC provided 2 hours of coverage on Saturday (which is when the matches concluded at that time). Chick Hearn was the lead announcer.
As far as I can tell, none of the Ryder Cups during the 1960s received any US TV exposure. In 1971, Sports Network Incorporated (SNI) provided 90 minutes of syndicated coverage on the final Saturday.
In 1975, the Ryder Cup shifted to the current Fri-Sun schedule. ABC held the US network rights and carried 2.5 hours of coverage of the Sunday singles. ABC also provided Sunday coverage in 1979 (2.5 hours) and 1983 (2 hours) with Jim McKay as lead announcer. There was no US TV coverage of the 1973, 1977, or 1981 matches when the Ryder Cup was held overseas.
In 1985, ESPN provided the first ever US TV coverage for a Ryder Cup held in Europe. However this coverage lasted only 1 hour and was presented on tape delay in November some 7 weeks (!!) after the matches.
In 1987, American TV coverage finally extended to all three days of the event. ESPN carried 2 hours of coverage on Friday while ABC aired 2.5 hours each on Saturday and Sunday.
1989 was the first time that any US network covered a Ryder Cup live from Europe. The USA Network televised 2 hours each on Friday and Saturday and 3 hours on Sunday (all live). Jim Simpson was the lead play-by-play announcer. Gary McCord and Ben Wright were among the other voices on the USA Network telecast team.
The NBC era
The 1991 Ryder Cup was significant for many reasons, one of them being a huge increase in America TV coverage. USA Network expanded to show 9 hours on Friday with Bill Macatee and Peter Kostis anchoring. USA also covered the Saturday morning matches (4 hours). Macatee would be the primary voice on all subsequent Ryder Cups that USA covered through 2006. NBC aired the Saturday afternoon matches (4 hours) and provided 4.5 hours of action on Sunday. Charlie Jones was the lead announcer for NBC with Johnny Miller as primary analyst (where he remains to this day). The Sunday matches were scheduled to end by mid-afternoon so that NBC could cover regional NFL games at 4 pm ET. All 1991 coverage was live and this would remain the case for every subsequent Ryder Cup contested in the United States.
In 1993, USA again provided 9 hours of Friday coverage, but this time on tape delay. NBC carried 6 hours on tape delay Saturday and 4.5 hours live on Sunday with Jim Lampley as the lead announcer. In subsequent years, both USA and NBC would televise the Fri and Sat action on tape delay each time the matches were staged in Europe.
For the 1995 matches, USA expanded to 10 hours on Friday. NBC televised 6.5 hours each on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, NBC covered the morning session, broke off to televise a college football game, and then returned to air the end of the afternoon session. Dick Enberg took over as main NBC announcer. As in 1991, NBC would cover NFL 4 pm games after the Ryder Cup Sunday action.
In 1997, both the Friday coverage on USA (10 hours) and the Saturday coverage on NBC (6 hours) were on tape delay. NBC aired the Sunday singles live for 4.5 hours.
In 1999, USA expanded to 10.5 hours on Friday. NBC expanded to 10 hours on Saturday and followed with 6.5 hours on Sunday.
The scheduled 2001 matches were postponed in the aftermath of 9/11. In 2002, we again had tape delayed coverage on both Friday and Saturday (10 hours each day on USA and NBC respectively). NBC provided 5.5 hours of live coverage on Sunday. Dan Hicks assumed the role as lead NBC announcer.
The 2004 TV coverage was similar to 1999 while the 2006 TV coverage matched that of 2002.
In 2008, ESPN picked up the Friday rights with Mike Tirico anchoring. The TV times were the same as in 2004.
In 2010, ESPN came on the air live at 2:30 am ET on Friday for 10.5 hours. This marked the first live Ryder Cup Friday coverage from a venue in Europe since 1989. NBC again tape delayed the 10 hours of Saturday coverage and televised 6 hours live on Sunday.
For 2012, ESPN is scheduled to expand to 11.5 hours on Friday while NBC plans the traditional 10 and 6 on the weekend.