Dottie Pepper, Entire Golf Channel Crew, Broadcasting From Masters
Wednesday, April 8, 2009; 1:42 PM
AUGUSTA -- If Dottie Pepper had her choice, she'd be spending the next four days curled up in the couch at her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., watching the 73rd Masters tournament on television, just the way she always did before becoming one of the busiest broadcasters in the golf universe.
Instead, the former LPGA star will be on site here in Augusta, putting in long days and nights covering the tournament for The Golf Channel, mostly on the set at the network's Augusta Country Club location, occasionally on the golf course doing live updates and analysis of what she's seeing.
This will be Pepper's first time as a Masters broadcaster, though she has been here before as a spectator, starting in 1987 when she was still in college at Furman. The week before, she had broken 70 for the first time playing in a college tournament, and a fellow from Greenville, S.C., wondered if she might be interested in accepting two tickets to attend the Masters a few days later.
"I was like 'are you crazy? Of course I want to go,' " she recalled telling him. She and a college pal were on hand for the final round Sunday, and as soon as they knew there would be a three-man playoff between Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros and Larry Mize, they dashed down to Amen Corner to get an up close look at the 11th and 12th holes.
That led to a front row seat to watch Augusta native Mize chip-in to the cup from 140 feet away for a miracle birdie at No. 11 that won the tournament, a memory she says will always rank among her top goose-bump moments in golf, watching or playing.
"I'm a golf fan," Pepper, a native of upstate New York who does 37 tournaments a year for the network and NBC Sports, said in a recent interview. "Now that I'm living up north again, I still look at the Masters as kind of the start of the golf season. It was always a rite of spring, even if sometimes there was still snow on the ground at home. It's just a very special event."
And always a very special week for The Golf Channel, of course, even if ESPN will air the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday and CBS, as always, will handle the live action over the weekend. Still, ESPN will only go live from 4 to 7:30 p.m. the first two days, and CBS will be on from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. While there are an additional 90 minutes of action from a year ago between the two rights-holding networks, there are still scads of hours when the actual tournament is off the air.
That's where The Golf Channel comes in. Though they obviously are not allowed to show any live action and only a limited number of taped highlights, the network will be on the air from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, followed by a two-hour post-round show starting at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, the show will air from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Two-hour post-round shows Saturday and Sunday will run from 7 to 9 p.m, barring a late-finishing playoff.
A small battalion of broadcasters and off-camera personnel have invaded Augusta for the network's most ambitious Masters coverage ever -- "Live From The Masters" -- a total of 26 hours from Thursday to Sunday. They will constantly update scores, offer analysis and commentary from the studio and the golf course, air player press conferences from the media center on tape delay and essentially fill in many of the blanks before ESPN and CBS actually show any live action.
"This is the Super Bowl for us," said Tom Stathakes, the man in charge of coordinating the production. "It's a very big undertaking, but if you want to know what's going on in Augusta before the tournament is on live television, this is the place to be."
Eight hours a day of live sports programming without actually showing any live action is clearly a challenge, and there will be many moving parts, including the presence of two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw offering analysis on the weekend.
Washington native Steve Sands, as usual, also will have a major role, reporting from the course and handling many of the pre- and post-round player interviews.
"I'll be there when the sun comes up talking to players getting out of their cars when they come to the course," he said. "At 10 a.m., I'll be out on the first hole. We'll get interviews with players and at some point I'll go back to the studio and host for a few hours Thursday and Friday. I personally think it's the coolest event of the year. We're providing a great service to golf fans. It doesn't come on until 4 o'clock the first two days, but if you want to find out what's going on, we're the place to go."
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Len.Shapiro@washingtonpost.com.