Monday, July 15, 2013

History of British Open on US TV (1962-present)

The British Open (more properly titled The Open Championship) is the oldest golf major, but has the shortest history on US TV. However, by 2010, the tournament with the distinctive yellow scoreboards was getting the most network TV coverage in the US of any golf major.

For many years the networks holding the US TV rights would televise the tournament primarily using video feeds from the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). For the entire decade of the 1970s, all US TV coverage was on tape delay. The Open also lagged far behind the other majors in moving to HDTV broadcasts.

For detailed TV schedules and announcers by year, see my complete research on British Open TV history over at 506sports (free registration required to view).

<EDITED on 7/17/2019 to bring this up to date as of the 2019 tournament>  

Chronology of British Open TV coverage

1961 - ABC had planned to provide taped coverage of the Friday 7/14 final round on Wide World of Sports the next day, but ABC scrapped those plans when the Friday action was rained out. At the time, the British Open was scheduled as a 3-day event ending with 36 holes on Friday. The 36-hole finish took place on Saturday with no US TV coverage.

1962 - ABC provided taped coverage of the Friday action on a Sunday edition of Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay narrating. ABC would do the same but on a next-day basis on Saturdays from 1963-1965.

1966 - The Open changed to a 4-day format with the final round on Saturday. For the first time, ABC televised the event live. The network provided 1.5 hours of coverage via Early Bird satellite of the Saturday round with McKay and Byron Nelson calling the action.

1968 - Chris Schenkel worked alongside Nelson for the telecast which covered the final 4 holes.

1969 - ABC increased to 3 hours of live coverage. This was the first time the Open was televised in color in the US.

1970 - After 4 consecutive years of live telecasts, ABC regressed to late afternoon tape delay coverage of the Saturday final round and would continue this throughout the 1970s. ABC also reduced its coverage to 1.5 hours. Dave Marr joined the ABC crew. On Sunday, ABC added tape delayed coverage of the 18-hole playoff.

1972- ABC expanded the tape delayed coverage to 2 hours and this would remain the case through 1979.

1975 - ABC added coverage of the Sunday 18-hole playoff on tape delay. ABC started using Peter Alliss from the BBC on the Open. Alliss would split time on the BBC and US TV networks on Open coverage every year through 2015.

1980 - The Open shifted to the modern Thursday-Sunday schedule. On Saturday, ABC carried 1 hour on tape delay, but the network provided 2 hours of live coverage on Sunday. This was the first live coverage of the event on ABC since 1969.

1981 - ABC provided 1.5 hours of live coverage on Saturday for a weekend total of 3.5 hours.

1982 - ESPN provided 11 hours of coverage of the Thursday and Friday rounds. Jim Simpson and Lou Palmer were among the announcers during the early years of the ESPN coverage. ABC increased to 2 hours on Saturday. Jack Whitaker joined the ABC team.

1984 - McKay did not work the Open as ABC kept him in the US to prepare for the upcoming Los Angeles Olympics. Whitaker anchored the ABC telecasts. ABC increased the Sunday coverage to 3 hours.

1988 - Due to heavy rain, the final round was delayed until Monday. ABC added 1.5 hours of tape delayed coverage of the Monday finish.

1990 - ABC expanded to 4 hours each day on the weekend. Roger Twibell anchored the ABC coverage.

1992 - Brent Musburger took over as the ABC lead announcer with Steve Melnyk as lead analyst.

1993 - Peter Jacobsen worked as lead analyst for ABC, but Melnyk would resume this role again the following year.

1997 - Mike Tirico took over as the ABC lead announcer.

1998 - ABC installed Curtis Strange as its lead analyst.

1999 - ABC moved the Saturday coverage to ESPN around 11:30am so that ABC News could follow the search for the missing plane of John F. Kennedy Jr.

2000 - ABC increased to 4.5 hours on each weekend day.

2001 - ABC expanded to 5.5 hours on both Saturday and Sunday and would continue this schedule through 2009.

2003 - TNT took over the Thursday and Friday rounds. Ernie Johnson and Bobby Clampett anchored the TNT coverage which also used some of the ABC announcers. TNT also started providing 2 hours of early morning coverage on both weekend days prior to the ABC air-time.

2004 - ABC installed Ian Baker-Finch and Nick Faldo as co-#1 analysts.

2005 - Paul Azinger joined Faldo as ABC co-lead analyst. Faldo made the cut in the event and joined the ABC coverage after finishing play.

2006 - Tirico filled in on TNT for Johnson who was undergoing chemotherapy.

2008 - ABC added Tom Watson to its TV team after Faldo left for CBS. Watson played in the event, but missed the cut. Baker-Finch took over as lead analyst on TNT.

2009 - Watson had again been scheduled to join the ABC weekend telecasts. However, he never made it to the broadcast booth as he not only made the cut, but nearly won the tournament.

2010 - ESPN took over the entire tournament. This marked the first time that a men's golf major was exclusively on cable in the US. ESPN began the Thursday and Friday coverage at 4am ET and stayed on the air for a scheduled 11 live hours both days. Tirico and Azinger remained as the lead announcers. This was also the first British Open televised in HDTV.

2014 - ESPN shifted its Saturday coverage to start at 5am ET after the tournament moved tee times earlier due to an ominous weather forecast.

2015 - ESPN started the Saturday coverage at 2am ET to show completion of the second round (but that was soon halted for wind). The third round was moved to Sunday. ESPN added Monday coverage of the final round.

2016 - NBC took over the rights and combined with Golf Channel for 49.5 hours of scheduled live coverage - a record to date for any golf major. This marks the first major for GC which came on the air at 1:30 am ET on Thursday and Friday for a total of 14.5 scheduled hours both days. Dan Hicks and Johnny Miller anchored the NBC telecasts.

2019 - Paul Azinger takes over the NBC lead analyst role replacing the retired Johnny Miller. 

Total scheduled US TV time for the British Open by year

Note: I am not including added coverage (such as playoffs) in these numbers, but I did mention these cases in the above chronology. I am also not including taped highlight shows, but am including original tape delay coverage. The hours represent live coverage except where noted.

1962-1965:   at most 1.5 hours (ABC) - covered on tape as part of Wide World of Sports
1966-1968:   1.5 hours (ABC)
1969:             3 hours (ABC)
1970-1971:  1.5 hours on tape delay (ABC)
1972-1979:  2 hours on tape delay (ABC)
1980:            3 hours total with 1 on tape delay and 2 live (ABC)
1981:             3.5 hours (ABC)
1982:             15 hours (11 on ESPN, 4 on ABC)
1983              14 hours (10 on ESPN, 4 on ABC)
1984-1989:   15 hours (10 on ESPN, 5 on ABC)
1990-1999:   18 hours (10 on ESPN, 8 on ABC)
2000:             21 hours (12 on ESPN, 9 on ABC)
2001-2002:   23 hours (12 on ESPN, 11 on ABC)
2003-2004:   30 hours (19 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2005-2006:   31 hours (20 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2007-2009:   30 hours (19 on TNT, 11 on ABC)
2010-2011:    37 hours (ESPN)
2012:              36 hours (ESPN)
2013-2015:    37 hours (ESPN)
2016:             49.5 hours (35 on GC, 14.5 on NBC)
2017:             49.5 hours (34.5 on GC, 15 on NBC)
2018:             49 hours (34 on GC, 15 on NBC)
2019:             48 hours (33 on GC, 15 on NBC)


  1. Jeff,

    Great rundown on ABC's coverage of the Open. I had not remembered the live coverage they offered in the 60s, even though I would have been old enough to watch it. It does remind me of when live Early Bird satellite coverage of overseas sports (such as the start and finish of the 24 Hours of LeMans) was rare, and was always a special event when it happened.

    Looking forward to your Me-TV piece as well!


    1. Thanks, Mitchell. I'll check out your post tomorrow.

  2. In 2016, Golf Channel (Thursday-Sunday) and NBC (Saturday & Sunday) take over the U.S. broadcast rights of the (British) Open Championship from ESPN. Here's the 2016 U.S. coverage schedule, not including any potential changes in the broadcast schedule that could occur due to weather delays and/or other factors:

    Thursday - 15 1/2 hours of coverage on Golf Channel (beginning at 1:30 A.M. EDT)
    Friday - 15 1/2 hours of coverage on Golf Channel (beginning at 1:30 A.M. EDT)
    Saturday - 3 hours of coverage on Golf Channel (beginning at 4 A.M. EDT), 7 1/2 hours of coverage on NBC (beginning at 7 A.M. EDT)
    Sunday - 3 hours of coverage on Golf Channel (beginning at 4 A.M. EDT), 7 hours of coverage on NBC (beginning at 7 A.M. EDT)

    I'm basing this off of my DirecTV system's program guide, and adjusting for EDT (I live in the U.S. Central Time Zone).

    That's a total of 37 hours of coverage on Golf Channel and 14 1/2 hours of coverage on NBC, for a grand total of 51 1/2 hours of scheduled coverage on U.S. television! Golf Channel and NBC are going to cover the vast majority, if not all, of the 2016 Open Championship.

    1. I just updated the post to cover 2016. Note: Your math is off a bit as the Thu/Fri coverage is planned for "only" 14.5 hours each day.

    2. Your math is DirecTV program guide lists Thu/Fri coverage in two consecutive blocks of 4.5 hours and 10 hours with no gap in between, not 5.5 hours and 10 hours.