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Volume 21 No. 35
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How Golf Channel’s ‘Shotmakers’ came together

Around four years ago, as several members of Golf Channel’s management team spent a night at the Topgolf facility in Atlanta, a friendly competition developed as they aimed their 7-irons at various targets.

That was the first time the group had seen a Topgolf facility. They were so impressed, they ended up developing a TV show that finally will see the light of day April 9 when Golf Channel launches “Shotmakers.” It’s a competition-based show filmed at the Topgolf facility in Las Vegas — sort of how “American Ninja Warrior” would look if it was produced by the 24-hour golf network.

This is a story about how that TV show was born and the years-long process for the show to be greenlit.

Golf Channel President Mike McCarley, in particular, was enthused by that evening in Atlanta. He saw a growing trend with facilities like Topgolf becoming more popular than ever. The trend proved to be real. The last participation study in 2016 showed that the United States had roughly 25 million golfers for traditional 18-hole golf, and another 7 million who use driving ranges, Topgolf and simulators, McCarley said.

Golf Channel is known for its tournament coverage. But it also produced long-drive competitions and reality shows such as “Big Break.”

McCarley asked his producers — Tommy Roy and Tom Randolph — to play the Topgolf in Atlanta a few times and come up with ideas for how Golf Channel could produce a show from there.

“We wanted to create something that is where golf is headed as a participatory sport,” McCarley said. “Much like the way golf participation has evolved, this also can be a look into the future of what a golf competition could be.”

“Shotmakers” will feature co-ed teams competing at Topgolf’s Las Vegas facility.
Photo: golf channel

Roy and Randolph returned with ideas about the type of games they could develop at Topgolf and how they would be able to shoot them and light them.

McCarley and his team took the idea to Topgolf executives and talked with them about partnering on the project. They spent the ensuing couple of years firming up plans.

Topgolf developed its showcase facility in Las Vegas in 2016 in conjunction with MGM. If the companies were going to move forward with a show, it made sense that the Vegas facility should host it, at least the first time.

Based on the popularity of team matches in golf, like the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, they decided to develop a competition with teams, rather than individuals.

“We started developing this show concept, which evolved into a competition, over the last couple of years,” McCarley said. “We sat down with the Topgolf guys in Augusta last spring and started walking through some of these concepts. Where we landed is based on some of the Topgolf games that any consumer can go and play.”

The seven-episode series launches April 9 and will have nine co-ed teams compete against each other with their shotmaking ability. Episodes will run twice a week, on Monday and Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET. The series finale is planned for April 30.

Each episode will have three rounds. There’s a one-shot qualifier to determine seeding for the second round. The two lowest-scoring teams will compete in an elimination round, with the losing team leaving the show.

Golf Channel will produce and own the series. Topgolf signed on as a sponsor and will be a partner in the production.

Each team carries its own sponsor, with teams wearing uniforms where they will look more like Premier League players than golf professionals. CDW, Corona Premier, Travelocity, MGM Grand, Avis and Massage Envy signed up to sponsor teams. Topgolf and Waste Management will sponsor two teams.

“I look at this as a modern-day twist on the traditional game of golf,” McCarley said.

Amanda Blumenherst and Shane Bacon will co-host the series, with Chantel McCabe serving as a course reporter.

Competitors include current professional golfer Jamie Puterbaugh, trick-shot artist Tania Tare, driving range owner Robbie Biershenk and golf lifestyle blogger Nikki Bondura.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.