• The BBC revealed on Wednesday they will end their Open coverage early
  • The 2016 Open at Royal Troon will now be broadcast live on Sky Sports
  • The BBC decided to broadcast only half of the final round of the 2015 Open

Derek Lawrenson for the Daily Mail

Did we really expect anything else but an inglorious surrender and an abject retreat to the margins? Sixty years of live coverage of The Open and they give it up without so much as a last goodbye on screen, never mind a fabulous last hurrah.

From the moment it was announced earlier this year that the BBC would be ending their live commitment with the 2016 edition at Royal Troon, the suspicion was they would try to weasel out of the final year. And so it has come to pass.

The statement from Barbara Slater, BBC sport director, could hardly have sounded less sincere. It read: ‘In light of financial developments, the choice to amend the current contract was a pragmatic one. We know that many fans are unhappy and in an ideal world the BBC would still be the home of live coverage of The Open.’ 

Zach Johnson lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews after winning the final Open to be shown live by the BBC

Zach Johnson lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews after winning the final Open to be shown live by the BBC

Hazel Irvine  and Peter Alliss were the faces of live golf for the BBC, which has given up The Open

Hazel Irvine and Peter Alliss were the faces of live golf for the BBC, which has given up The Open

Alliss has been the voice of live golf on the BBC since 1978, and first worked for the corporation in 1961

Alliss has been the voice of live golf on the BBC since 1978, and first worked for the corporation in 1961

On the BBC sport website on Wednesday there was a headline about the ‘intoxicating rivalry’ at the top of the world game. Just not intoxicating enough to show any of it live.

Ironically, the absence of virtually any live coverage of golf on terrestrial free-to-air television in this country comes against a backdrop of The Open making the opposite journey in America. For the last few years it has been shown on ESPN, Sky’s equivalent in the US, but from 2017 it will be broadcast by the mighty NBC, in conjunction with the Golf Channel.

As it happens, I played golf on Tuesday with one of their head honchos, who could hardly have been more enthusiastic about the deal. In Britain, there will be one solitary weekend of live play from the Masters. In America, there are 40 weekends of live play for anyone to enjoy without the need of a subscription. How on earth can there be such a disparity? 

When the announcement was made earlier this year I laid the blame equally on the BBC and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and assigned a plague on both their houses. But it’s pretty clear now I was far too harsh on the R&A. The recently retired chief executive Peter Dawson’s strident defence — ‘Believe me, if you knew what I know, you’d have signed exactly the same deal’ — now carries a startling ring of truth.

The good news, of course, is that at least The Open is now in the hands of a broadcaster with a true commitment to the sport. Sky will do a fabulous job and for those who don’t have a subscription, there will be the chance to buy it for a week for just over a tenner, which is good value by anyone’s standards.

But the event won’t reach the young fan with no affiliation to the sport, who just tunes in to see what the ‘intoxicating rivalry’ is all about, in a similar way to how Sir Nick Faldo was introduced to the sport. That’s the crying shame. 

Barbara Slater, BBC Sport Director, could hardly have sounded less sincere in her statement on Wednesday

Barbara Slater, BBC Sport Director, could hardly have sounded less sincere in her statement on Wednesday

The weekend of The Masters, won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, is all that will be shown live on the BBC next year

The weekend of The Masters, won in 2015 by Jordan Spieth, is all that will be shown live on the BBC next year

Sky, with pundits such as Paul McGinley (left) and Butch Harmon (centre) will do excellently with The Open

Sky, with pundits such as Paul McGinley (left) and Butch Harmon (centre) will do excellently with The Open

I guess in time we’ll remember with nostalgic fondness Peter Alliss’s many marvellous moments and the insightful contributions of the great enthusiast, Ken Brown.

But right now my abiding image of the BBC’s coverage was their response to a rare Monday morning finish last July. The day dawned with an eager sense of anticipation among golfers nationwide. At the Home of Golf, the grandstands were all full by mid-morning. On American television, they were setting the scene wonderfully with some perceptive analysis.

The BBC? They turned on the cameras when the final round was halfway through, as if the millions of avid enthusiasts in this country were only interested in a handful of leading names. 

The BBC has broadcast live golf from The Open for the last 60 years

The BBC has broadcast live golf from The Open for the last 60 years

Ken Brown's brilliantly incisive punditry was wasted on the final day of The Open in 2015

Ken Brown’s brilliantly incisive punditry was wasted on the final day of The Open in 2015

The BBC started showing the final round of The Open, which Johnson won, halfway through proceedings

The BBC started showing the final round of The Open, which Johnson won, halfway through proceedings

While Americans could wake up and enjoy all the early action, Brown was to be seen outside the media centre, cheerfully conversing with a few passers-by. Which must have been nice for them, but an absolutely scandalous waste of his talents.

That’s what I remember of the final Open on the BBC. A brilliant commentator — desperate, I’m sure, to pass on his wisdom — a nation eager to hear from him, and him signing a few autographs instead.

What a way for all those glorious years to end. What a way to sign off.

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