Golf

NBC Sports’ Beyond The Fairway Podcast Brings A Fresh Perspective To Golf Talk

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NBC Sports continues their push into podcasts with the launch of Beyond The Fairway, a golf series hosted by Doug Smith and Will Lowery.  The pair of seasoned mini-tour grinders aim for the sweet spot where golf and popular culture collide while also seamlessly engaging guests from Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen to social media influencer Tisha Alyn in an earnest dialogue on societal issues and hot-button topics of the day. 

NBC Sports toed into the podcast space in 2015 with just a handful of shows. Today there are nearly 40 podcasts spanning all the major sports. In addition, the NBC Sports audio channel on SiriusXM launched on the satellite radio service last month.

Black voices are clearly an underrepresented constituency in golf. As reported in a recent SI story, only 177 of the PGA of America’s 29,000 golf pros are Black and there are currently fewer African-American players on the PGA Tour than there were in 1976, a mere fifteen years after the organization removed the “Caucasian-only” clause from its constitution.  

“When you talk about NBC implementing diversity and inclusion, never in my wildest dreams did I think they’d be talking about me and you,” says Lowery, who appeared on a couple seasons of Golf Channel’s Big Break reality series to co-host Smith who played college golf at Florida A&M University and the University of Louisville in the intro pod.

“Look at all the pieces, historical relevance, and data, and the odds are stacked up against two black voices talking about the game of golf. This is a dream come true for me to have a platform to talk about golf on a network that actually celebrates it and it’s not just lip service,” says Smith when I caught up with him and Lowery.

“You’ve got a guy from Kentucky and a guy from Charlotte coming together to talk about golf in a way that has really never been heard. Two voices that can provide a lens into a different side of the game,” adds Smith.

Lowery and Smith have a back-and-forth conviviality usually reserved for college roommates or close siblings and that’s because they go back a long way.  They first met during an APGA Tour practice round at Chester Washington Golf Course in Los Angeles a decade ago and have been tight since, often sharing rooms and rental cars as they chased their pro golf dreams.

“Will and I aren’t fake friends. We’ve gone through the trenches and aspired to try to play this game on the PGA Tour. We’re not just two guys who knew each other. We did this together. We put our bank accounts together and collectively have been -$200 to try to play golf for some money,” says Smith.

Along with ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption Lowery points to New York based syndicated morning show The Breakfast Club with DJ Envy, Charlamagne Tha God, and Angela Yee as a key inspiration for Beyond the Fairway.

“They have this true authentic view about certain topics that can really benefit any and everybody who listens. They are apolitical and controversial but they always bring it home too, and make it comfortable for the listener so they’ll want to tune in for the next episode,” says Lowery.

When asked whether the world of golf at large has done a good enough job reckoning with the sport’s racist and exclusionary past, the hosts responses diverge.

“I can somewhat sometimes forgive some of golf’s past, but I also really take heed and pay attention to some of golf’s patterns as well,” says Lowery. “I think it’s trending to a better position, but I could be a pessimist and say I think we could do more. Where we are now, I hope we don’t stop the momentum and drop the ball,” he adds.

While Lowery took a more politically correct tack, Smith, who has been engaged in diversity conversations within the industry since 1998, offers a less sugarcoated assessment: “I’m disappointed in golf overall as a whole. It’s the people that are in positions to make the change. I don’t feel like there has been enough pro-activity. Everything that I’ve seen from my vantage is always a reaction,” he says.

“I think it’s a travesty that there are so many people that this game can be introduced to that could literally change the course of that individual’s future and that the access to this game is so damned hard,” adds Smith.

Both hosts are excellent storytellers, whip-smart, and disarmingly charming. But, it’s their infectious candor and honesty that really makes the show so listenable and gives their celebrity guests the tacit freedom to relax, be themselves, and speak their truths.

Future guests set to appear on Beyond The Fairway this season include Hollywood A-listers in Don Cheadle and Cedric the Entertainer along with marquee athletes like 11 time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald and the Toronto Raptors all-time 3-pt leader Kyle Lowry. A dream get for Beyond The Fairway would be Barack Obama and they are in talks with the former president’s camp so wedges crossed.

While the nascent show is currently without a strategic advertising deal, NBC Sports’ sales team is in the marketplace and having conversations with a number of potential sponsors.

“Our dream sponsor, would be a company that shares similar ideas about bridging culture between age groups, sexual orientation groups, differing ideals—and that want to support the game of golf and its diversity,” says Smith.

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