ABC’s Holey Moley extreme mini-golf series premieres Thursday at 8 p.m., featuring Steph Curry as executive producer and course pro, Joe Tessitore as play-by-play announcer, Rob Riggle as analyst and Jeannie Mai as sideline reporter. Tessitore recently took the time to talk to Awful Announcing about Holey Moley, and why he dove into it as a break from his more-serious announcing duties on the likes of Monday Night Football and boxing fights.
“What interested me the most was the chance to have a lot of fun, in a sports media world where I just think we need to have more of it,” Tessitore said. “It’s like, ‘Hey man, we’re going to put a lot of money on the line, with people who are going to care greatly about this, on a course that is kind of Willy Wonka meets Wipeout meets beyond-your-dreams Hollywood scripted. And we’re going to get to laugh, we’re going to have fun, but it’s legit sports competition on national TV in prime time where we can just sit back and enjoy ourselves. We’re not debating instant replay, we’re not worried about contract negotiations, it’s not heavy. It is a hell of a lot of fun and legit.”
Tessitore said one of the most amazing things about Holey Moley was the variety of absurd holes they got to feature.
“When you set foot on this course, you’re not going to believe the size, the scope. It’s almost one of those things where if you could dream it and brought it into existence. It’s almost as if you could, say if you and I were sitting around drinking too much one night and sitting there talking about mini-golf,and said ‘And what if we built, like, a 30-foot volcano that you have to putt up the side of? And then as you’re at the top of it, a giant fire burp happens and a fireball goes 40 feet in the air as you have to get on a zip line to go across a lake and then plunge down to land on a barge where I make it to an island hole 70 feet away from where I originally putted and then putt out there.’ ‘What, are you crazy?’ No, that’s reality on this course. It is so far beyond what you would expect it to be.”
Tessitore said Curry’s involvement was a big part of that, and Curry really committed to the show.
“That definitely is a really big role, and Steph is a real major part of every episode. It’s funny because Steph obviously is in on the executive producer side, the creative side, this whole team behind the show, and is very, very involved. And as you know, he’s an excellent golfer; this guy is incredible. Scratch golfer, the whole deal.”
“And there is a specific hole that is built just with Steph in mind. It’s a hole where you actually putt and then you get to make a choice on your next shot. And one of the choices is that you can have Steph take that stroke okay. But when I say this course is exotic, the first part of the putting green is 65 yards away from where you then putt out. There’s a sunken hole that is a basketball court, but with a green, a painted arc, the key, the foul line, the whole deal. And Steph is hitting like a sand wedge, or a half/three-quarter swing wedge, and he’s putting this thing within 15-20 feet every single time.”
“He was amazing; great interaction with us in the booth, great interaction with the competitors, and the golfers were loving him. Everybody wanted to be around him, everybody wanted to win this part of the hole so they could choose him. And he plays a major role in every episode.”
Tessitore said another fun development came from working with Riggle, who made it very challenging for him to keep a straight face.
“Oh, he was a blast. I’d met Rob before, but we’d never worked together and we never had a lot of time spent together, but I really appreciated his style of humor. I mean, when he did the ESPYs with us, the work he’s done through the years and what he does on NFL pregame, I think he’s just a really, really funny guy. But what I didn’t realize is how much he would make me break. I was dying at times. Because my job was really easy, they’re like, ‘Just be you, just be the network play-by-play/live event host guy, do your
role straight up the way you would call every other major event you call, prep it, care for it, document it, have fun.'”
“But trying to stay in that lane when Riggle is crushing things and being in character, you know, when he switches gears and goes into that full Rob Riggle character…and then the things that were happening on the course! I was just dying. He was very funny, but also what was happening would give you that reaction. The course is so exotic, and the things that are happening to the contestants, you can’t help but to fall prey to it. Riggle’s going to say something and you’re gonna break.”
Tessitore said he brought his usual preparation to this, but Holey Moley delivered some surprises, especially when it came to seemingly-underdog contestants.
“The one thing that surprised me the most, you know what a typical play-by-play guy does in a week in terms of getting your boards together, prepping, who are the competitors, who are the players, do I know the backstory, the background? So, you know, I know no other way to get ready for a broadcast than to treat it the same way I would treat Monday Night Football, the same way I would treat doing a world heavyweight fight at Madison Square Garden, I’m just going to get my board set and know these competitors, make sure I’ve got information on their backstories.”
“And as you look through the field of these competitors for every episode, you would find ‘Hey, you know, she played college golf and then she’s on the Cactus Tour down in Arizona and she’s a satellite tour pro, or she’s also a golf pro at a club down in Texas.’ You’re like, ‘Wow, very accomplished golfer, very skilled scratch golfer.’ Or ‘This guy was in the World Series of Golf after being a four-year starter at an ACC school, his grandfather was on the PGA Tour, lifelong family of golf.’ So in every episode, you’re getting a handful of these people who right away you say ‘Clearly one of the favorites. Clearly there’s no way that we’re losing that head-to-head matchup in the first round of three holes. ..And you would be stunned how many times that wasn’t the case.”
He said the course’s craziness was a big part of that.
“You make the assumption in your head as to how this is going to go, but the holes and the course were the great equalizer. Because, yes, in mini golf, putting pace and speed and angles are critical, but all of a sudden, man, you’re sitting suspended 20 feet over cold water with TV cameras on you and a huge live gallery, and let’s see how good you can putt when you know that the trapdoor underneath your feet is going to give way and you’re going to plunge in in your clothes if you miss a four foot putt. Or when an 18-foot Paul Bunyan log is rolling down a mountain while you’re setting up over the hole, or how well are you going to putt when a giant wiffle plate is coming with a lot of velocity and is big enough that it’s going to smash you off the course and you’re going to land ten feet below on a six-foot tulip? It changes everything.”
But while parts of that may seem ridiculous and hilarious, Tessitore said the competition was very serious.
“The one thing I would stress is how much it meant to the competitors. That’s the other thing that I thought was great. Listen, at the end of the day, they’re playing for a championship with a lot of money on the line on TV. For them and even for me, I didn’t walk into this thing saying ‘Hey, it’s just some little game show competition on ABC, let’s just have some fun with it.’ We had fun with it because it creates fun, we had fun with it because you can’t help but enjoy what you’re covering, but at the end of the day, it was a legitimate competition, it was compelling.”
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“Nobody is ever going to confuse me for Jim Nantz calling the Masters after they watch this golf show, ever. That is not my style, man! He is the best in the world at that, and I am never going to call golf, so this thing was built for me. Guys flying off the course, getting bashed, falling into the water, having a blast, I’m in. Amen Corner doesn’t have to worry about Joe Tess heading down to Augusta anytime soon after you watch this, trust me on that. I’ll stick to football and boxing.”
Tessitore said the overall Holey Moley experience was great, and a nice change from what he usually does.
“It was an absolute blast, a fun departure from my normal life. Listen, it is fun when you’re juiced up and you’re ready to have a great night when you’re sitting there at Lambeau Field getting ready to do Monday Night Football, and it is fun when you’re calling a Terence Crawford fight, but what I do on on ESPN or ABC when I’m doing my regular job comes with a certain amount of journalistic credibility and the expectation of presentation. That doesn’t get old, but what you have here is just so much joyfulness, so much fun, and in almost an analytical way, because the course is jaw-dropping.”
“Listen, the competitors are great, but the course is the star. Visually, every episode there’s something that happens because of the course, because of how exotic the course is. So my biggest takeaway is it was even better and it was more fun than I ever thought it could be.”