US Open champion 2012 Graeme McDowell has backed Lee Westwood’s stance after the former world number one called the decision for the Open Championship to move from terrestrial television to Sky Sports in 2016 “an absolute disgrace”.
The game’s ruling body, the R&A, is set to announce a new deal in the next few days which would see Open coverage move on following a long relationship with the BBC.
McDowell, who agrees with Westwood that the switch could be dangerous for the game in terms of declining numbers, said: “I agree with Westy completely. We are all very aware of the falling numbers and how dangerously on the precipice we are, regarding where the game needs to go in terms of attracting women and children.
“Golf’s inclusion in the Olympics (from next year) should hopefully help that, bringing the sport to so many television homes. But you can see Westy’s point, and I do sympathise with the British viewer.
“I feel bad for anyone, sitting at home with their TV licence and who will be robbed of (BBC presenter and commentator) Peter Alliss and the boys. The coverage from 7.30am to 7.30pm at night is special.”
World number one Rory McIlroy also recognised the downside of the move, saying: “I guess it’s just the way it’s gone - money talks, you know.
“It’s a shame the Open will not be on terrestrial television, but what can you do about it? I know Sky is expensive and a lot of people can’t afford it and it is a shame. It would have been nice if they could have come to some sort of resolution but there it is.”
The deal with the subscription network, according to reports in the Sunday Telegraph, would see Sky take over as exclusive live rights holders from 2016, with highlights to be shown on free-to-air television as stipulated by “crown jewels” legislation.
Westwood is angry with the news, and is worried that - with golf participation in sharp decline - the move will be a backwards step for the sport.
The 41-year-old who finished as runner-up at the 2010 Open, voiced his concern that the championship is not protected like the Wimbledon finals.
He told the Sunday Telegraph: “I cannot believe the Open isn’t protected as one of the crown jewels - that is an absolute disgrace.
“It’s very disappointing, even though I can appreciate how much Sky have done for the European Tour, and how much they’ve done for the game of golf. But look at the viewing figures for Sky compared to the BBC and you have to question it when the number of golfers are dwindling.
“I wouldn’t have got into golf if it wasn’t for watching Nick Faldo win the Open in 1987. I would watch every minute of the coverage, and you want today’s kids to have the same opportunity.
“The BBC is doing golf no favours at all by letting the Open go.”
As well as pointing the finger at the BBC for its part in ending its deal, Westwood questioned the big-money move by R&A, adding: “Well, it is the guardian of the game. But it seems to be all money-driven, and Sky are willing to pay more than anyone else.”