Golf Channel airing a taped interview with Michelle Wie West instead of live coverage of Scottie Scheffler's arrest Friday. Golf Channel airing a taped interview with Michelle Wie West instead of live coverage of Scottie Scheffler’s arrest Friday. (Golf Channel.)

Covering breaking news is always challenging, and it often leads to debates. And the latest one there has spilled into a Twitter feud between Golf Channel’s public relations staff and No Laying Up (the popular golf podcast/video/written content platform, whose key figures are hosting an alternate broadcast of the PGA Championship on ESPN platforms this week).

This comes after the arrest of world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler ahead of the start of the second round of that tournament Friday morning. There, ESPN drew major plaudits for the work of reporter Jeff Darlington (who happened to be there for the arrest and got video of it) and their whole team, and for how often they broke into their regularly-scheduled studio shows to discuss that. (Scheffler even saw some of that discussion from his holding cell.)

By contrast, Golf Channel took flak for not covering one of the biggest stories in golf on air for hours and hours. They aired coverage of the Amundi German Masters on the Ladies European Tour from 5 to 8 a.m. Eastern, followed by taped coverage of the Mizuho Americas Open on the LPGA Tour at 8 a.m. Eastern, and they didn’t break into either for a news update.

A NBC Sports (Golf Channel’s parent company) spokesperson told Sports Business Journal‘s Josh Carpenter Friday  “We will provide comprehensive reporting around today’s events on tonight’s ‘Live From the PGA Championship’ on Golf Channel and Peacock after ESPN’s windows conclude,” with that coverage taking place at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. And Carpenter’s article included that they were covering the story on their website. It also carried this explanation of why they chose not to cover it on air:

Because of broadcast restrictions, Golf Channel cannot come on the air live from the tournament when play is underway. Tee times, though eventually delayed by more than an hour because of the pedestrian fatality, were initially scheduled for as early as 7:15am. ESPN has the early round coverage of the PGA Championship.

Because of those restrictions, Golf Channel was not scheduled to come on the air live again Friday until 7:30pm, or whenever play wrapped up, and therefore did not have its talent or production crews at Valhalla Golf Club. Golf Channel’s “Live From” studio show wrapped up Thursday coverage around 10pm.

Golf Channel talent and production crews likely would have had delays getting to the golf course similar to those experienced by players and other tournament officials and fans.

As for its Stamford studio, Golf Channel did not have talent or production employees in place when the story first broke at 6:35am. With the initial 7:15 tee times, that would have only left 40 minutes to prepare and go live before play began.

Many have raised questions about that, though. And that included criticism from the No Laying Up X/Twitter account, logical considering how that group has often weighed in on what they like and don’t like in golf coverage. But that led to a remarkable response from Golf Channel PR claiming “important context here” included NLU’s work on an alternate broadcast with Omaha Productions and ESPN, and to the NLU account then shooting back.

Here’s the cut-off text from that last tweet:

And I don’t know what you’re referring to regarding live play. It did not get underway for several hours after the news came out about Scheffler’s arrest?

And technically, we are working for Omaha Productions this week, on something completely unrelated to their wall-to-wall coverage of a massive, massive story. Coverage that included one of their reporters videoing the scene, explaining the situation very clearly to the audience on ESPN+, cutting into their main programming on SportsCenter and Get Up, following up on his status, getting a rules official on to talk about his tee time, updating us on his status on the way to the course, and not breaking for commercials for about two hours. They showed an ability to *flex into scheduled programming*, which is something that NBC has struggled with for many years.

If you’ll recall, we gave GC similar praise on June 6 of last year for a story you covered very well. To imply that our one week relationship with ESPN would be “important context” for recognizing good work done by the only network providing us with live updates is lazy at best.

Lastly, thank you for plugging our show, you can catch it again tomorrow on ESPN+ from 9-11!

The NLU account has a point there. Yes, under a literal reading, those broadcast deals would prevent Golf Channel from discussing this on-air from the scene of the tournament. But that isn’t everything imaginable here.

First, it would be fascinating to see a network challenge an exclusive deal like that with the justification of “We were relaying highly newsworthy information not specifically about the tournament.” That would put pressure on the PGA Championship and ESPN to try to sue to collect punishment for broadcasting exclusivity violations. And that would make them, especially a newsgathering organization like ESPN, look terrible. So they might not sue at all.

But perhaps Golf Channel didn’t want to test that with a broadcast from Valhalla. And that’s somewhat understandable. But it doesn’t seem to make sense, based on what has been said so far, that they couldn’t have covered this with a quick break into their Ladies European Tour or taped LPGA Tour coverage with on-air talent from their Stamford HQ, or with one of their on-site personalities weighing in via Zoom from a hotel room in Louisville. It’s notable that Warner Bros. Discovery’s CNN, which obviously also didn’t have rights to broadcast live from the event, started covering this at 7:43 a.m. ET Friday and got a notable update in at 7:50 a.m. ET:

Meanwhile, Golf Channel’s corporate sibling, news channel MSNBC, started covering this even earlier. They first addressed it at 6:54 a.m. Eastern, less than 20 minutes after Darlington’s initial tweet.

In any other sport, it would be inconceivable to think that networks without live game rights can’t discuss a major off-field story while a game is going on. But that seems to be what Golf Channel is claiming is the case here. Bans on broadcasting from the site are maybe understandable (but again, could possibly have been challenged), but bans on discussing a major off-course story?  If that’s prohibited by this interpretation of “tournament exclusivity,” that should be challenged. And this would seemingly have been an ideal situation to do that. (And if Golf Channel couldn’t do their own update for whatever reason, couldn’t they have just used the update from their corporate sibling at MSNBC?)

As noted, covering breaking news outside of regularly-scheduled sports events can be a challenge for sports channels. It’s even been a challenge for ESPN and their resources at times in the past. But it was still remarkable to see how quickly and thoroughly ESPN handled the breaking news this time around, and how long it took Golf Channel to even mention it on air.

At any rate, it’s notable to see Golf Channel PR wade into the fray here. And it’s interesting to see them do so with a claim that a NLU broadcast airing on ESPN platforms is “important context” for what seemed like quite a fair criticism of Golf Channel, and one that’s been brought up by many other people and sites.

Update: this post initially misstated when Scheffler’s arrest took place.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.