If 2016 was the year of the golf podcast explosion then this is the year we see which ones have real legs. Which have become bland and formulaic and which are 'must listen' whenever they come on your iTunes feed?
Well, the latter half of last year marked a real turning point in the genre as many players really embraced them. Speith, McIlroy, Mickelson - they have all talked to podcasts at length. This is genuinely transformational for the golf fan. Previously (apart from the odd snatched interview at an event) you may have read an interview in a newspaper (unlikely, but very occasionally sensational) or golf magazine/website (90% utter fluff but occasionally excellent). Now we have some of the real superstars of the game talking at length, giving us insight like never before. They have pretty much cut out the middle man and are talking directly to their fans.
Jamie Kennedy, the social media manager for the European Tour, recently asked what makes for a good golf podcast. I suspect the answer partly depends on how much of a golf geek you are. I don't think there is an official scale for this, but, to help you frame what I have to say, I would be at the Padraig Harrington end of obsession!
So firstly, here are a few of the criteria which I think make for an engaging podcast -
Presenters with attitude and intelligence
Subject matter, guests, frequency - these are all important, but if you feel no connection with the host it can be tough. There have been new podcasts which, on paper, look like they should be great, but then you tune in and within 10 minutes the monotonous drone of the presenter's voice means you just have to turn off. It's tough, but some written-word journalists really find it hard to make the transition to the spoken form.
The ones which really work are those who have a strong point of view, are able to communicate it in an engaging way and aren't shackled by their employer or standing in the game. It was why I loved Lawrence Donegan when he used to do the ByTheMinGolf podcast. He didn't really give two hoots about what people thought. Last year I was slightly disparaging of the No Laying Up Podcast but for me they are now the undisputed number one. They have attitude and intelligence which makes for a great listen.
I am not sure the European Tour will ever be able to produce something so engaging as No Laying Up given their position in the game and I think the broadcasters find the same problem. Sky haven't cracked the podcast yet in the UK - will they ever be able to make yo feel there is an edge in what they say? I suspect not.
Insight you won't get elsewhere and subjects that really engage
There is really no point having a podcast which merely recounts events we have all witnessed ourselves with 'one guy's opinion' of it. It's not interesting and is unlikely to make it to the top of your podcast list.
The broadcasts I like are the ones which genuinely help me learn something new, give me an insight I wouldn't get elsewhere. The Chubby Chandler interviews on ByTheMin were great, Michael Clayton talking on State of the Game about what developers are demanding in golf course designs - these are genuinely mind-opening and add to my knowledge of what is going on in the world of golf.
I think it is hard for a show to really engage if it just spends every week looking back at last week's event and looking forward to next weekend's. Addressing broader topics make for a more interesting show. Of course it would be wrong not to talk about topical issues sometimes, but taking a broader perspective is often more interesting.
Don't have guests who just go through the motions
The Rory McIlroy interviews with NoLayingUp and The Clubhouse this year were fantastic, you felt like he was happy to talk about anything and give honest answers. The key here is for the presenters still to be journalists and not PR lackies. Asking questions which may sometimes be uncomfortable and not necessarily endearing themselves to the players is important in making it an interesting listen.
Phil Mickelson did the nascent Shipnuck podcast earlier this year. Now Shipnuck is an amazing writer, possibly the best in the business, but he is not great as a broadcaster. Though Phil was so mesmerising it didn't matter!
Shane Bacon had Rickie Fowler on the day before the Masters and gave the listener a few minutes of pretty much nothing. My advice next year - don't even bother.
Building a regular relationship with a podcast is important I think. You can be pretty confident there will be a No Laying Up podcast most weeks. I have recently discovered the GolfWeekly podcast and every Thursday I know it will be there waiting. It helps that the presenters are really engaging and have a point of view on everything but I enjoy the fact that I can depend on it being there.
Conversely, the reliability of the BytheMinGolf podcast has been disappointing. Whenever they do one it is the best thing I listen to that week, but it appears to have finally died a death. That's a real shame.
State of the Game is a glorious show. It is the 'One Foot in the Grave' of golf podcasts by a bunch of grumpy old men, but they fulfil the 'attitude and intelligence' criteria with aplomb. However, the longest time between broadcasts has been 3 months and there have only been 7 in the last 12 months. This makes it tough to really get into it, but is a real treat when it comes!
You can see here how some are definitely more diligent in their production than others -
Doesn't try too hard to sell me underwear
I think I have some cultural challenges I need to overcome! In the UK we have quite a clear demarcation between advertising and journalism. Our North American cousins seem to have a less distinct position.
I find it really odd when the Shackhouse comes on and Shack and House spend the first couple of minutes having a 'genuine' conversation about how much they are both loving the Callaway Chromesoft or the underpants they are wearing (I kid you not) and what a difference they are making to their daily lives. In last week's Shackhouse, 4 of the first 18 minutes were spent on promoting their sponsors. It does feel like CallawayFM at times. They are probably the most obvious offenders (to my uneducated ear) but others are at it as well. When I am driving to work and can't fiddle with the iPhone to forward through it, it is really annoying, especially as I can't get the underwear delivered to me in Gullane regardless of the quality of the gusset.
Now, I do understand that in this new media world these guys need to monetise their listenership, but I wish there were less invasive ways of doing it. No Laying Up are doing it light touch (and I imagine they are getting some big offers) but I wonder if they will manage to hold out. I have been listening the the S-Town podcasts recently. I don't recall any mentions of golf in the series (it's based around a manic depressive, poisoned, suicidal horologist) but the 15 seconds of sponsor mentions were not a distraction from the main event.
So, those are some of the things I look out for and given this is a rating website here's how I rate them -
THE MUST LISTENS
No Laying Up
Last year I accused this show of being a little too painfully Millenial focused. I take that all back now. I'm 43 and love listening to it. It is without a doubt the best in the business.
Solly is the main host and he has a great outlook on the golf world. They have had some phenomenal guests on (Rory phoned them up to get a slot) but they have an energy which is contagious. When it comes to a point of view, none have a stronger outlook than these guys.
They will also quite happily move away from just talking about the professional golf tours - the recent accounts of trips to England and Ireland were great listening for a golf course geek.
I have no doubt that these guys will continue to engage and only grow in their success. It wouldn't be surprising if in a year or two they have their own audio stream on a golf network or online streaming. Hell, Sky should get them doing that on the red button tomorrow.
Without a doubt the grand-daddy of them all. We are up to episode 72 but the first one was out in January 2012, with John Huggan on board. Now the frequency has declined but the standard has been maintained, despite Huggan's exit. I am a big fan of all three of the current hosts, Rod Morri, Geoff Shackelford and Mike Clayton and the quality of guests is uniformly great. Joe Oglivie's appearance in episode 45 sets the standard in podcast guests others should strive to!
This podcast tends to be less about the week to week goings on of the PGA tour and more about issues effecting the broader game of golf. They have a particular dedication to talking about how far the golf ball is going today and the problem that creates, however they are always entertaining. It's just a shame that the episodes are so few and far between.
This was a new find for me this year and I would really encourage you to have a listen if you haven't before. It is broadcast from Dublin and there is a skew towards Irish golf and golfers but that's not a problem as there is a real pace and energy to the show which means that it is a pleasure to listen to - even when the topics are a bit more parochial.
Unlike other podcasts which have 2 or 3 hosts talking either to each other or with a guest, this is just Shane Bacon every week in conversation with a guest. There are a few regulars such as Kyle Porter but often hosts of other podcasts like Geoff Shackleford or Tron Carter from No Laying Up come on. The guest line-up over the last 12 months has been stellar - Rory McIlroy, Keith Pelley, Justin Thomas.....
The only slight criticism (and it is slight) is that I think Bacon plays it a little safe sometimes in his questions. He is employed by Fox Sports and maybe this is the reason. It feels like it could maybe get a little edgier than it does at times.
So last year I was all over Shackhouse. I am a big fan of Geoff Shackleford's contributions to State of the Game and his blog, but the Shackhouse has gone a little off the boil for me.
Firstly, the advertising is too invasive for my liking. I know they need to make money, but it's a real pain to listen to. It does feel at times like they are just an extension of the Callaway PR team. Also, Joe House grates on me a little. He sounds a bit like a zany Muppet - maybe Fozzy Bear - and it gets a little dull hearing him talk in frenzied tones about how he is going to 'allocate my CAP-IT-AL'.
Having said that, when they calm down and have a good discussion or interview, the quality is usually pretty high and this is a show I listen to pretty much as soon as it comes out very week - so I can't dislike it that much.......!
Fair play to them, the Fried Egg podcasts are knocked out with some regularity. I've probably only listened to 7 or 8 of them though and, if truth be told, I'll see who the guest is before deciding whether to tune in. The topics under discussion are mainly about golf course architecture which I like. Tom Doak recently did 2 shows which were very interesting to listen to.
The reason I'm finding it hard to get engaged with it is that the host doesn't have a very naturally relaxed broadcasting style meaning it can be a bit plodding at times. Having said that, if the guests are good they carry it through. I think it's improving so I will stick with it for a while.
This is one of the latest podcasts to arrive on the scene and has real potential. iSeekGolf.com is Australia's largest golf website so this pod does have a slight Antipodean bias. The main host is Rod Morri from State of the Game and he is simply excellent. He has such a natural warm style - keeping the pace going well with just the right level of probing and tenacity in his questions. At the same time it feels like you are just eavesdropping on a chat between some well informed friends.
It will be tough to have the same level of discussion as he presides over with Shackleford, Clayton et al but the initial signs are really good. On last week's show Morri indicated that they might be looking to bring State of the Game into the iSeekGolf fold, to much excitement in the world of golf blogs. I fully expect this to be right at the top of the list next year.
OK, it is far too early to opine on this as it's only 2 weeks in - but so far so good! Porter is one of the new generation of young thrusting golf bloggers who don't care about convention and laugh in the face of rule 15.3. They all pop up on each other's podcasts and have 'hot takes' left, right and centre. Porter is definitely one of the best. He is also a very good writer for CBS.com - his article about playing Augusta this year will give you chills.
Firstly, the good things about these guys. They are pretty reliable. We have a podcast most weeks and the subject matter is pretty good. But the problem is that they are not great broadcasters yet. Sean and Cassie just don't set the world on fire with their style and I don't think that they give enough to engage with them. It feels a bit staid and plodding which is a shame - too often I feel they are reading something out rather than having a natural conversation. If they lose the scripts and relax a bit and I suspect they will get a lot better.
THE DEARLY DEPARTED
Farewell Lawrence and Huggy. I can only assume that these two have gone off in a different direction given there we haven't had a show since February but anyone thinking of starting a golf podcast should listen to these guys for the gold standard. Relaxed, informed, provocative. What more could you ask for?