Martin Dempster: Golf still has TV appeal in Ireland but not to BBC

Open champion Shane Lowry is the ninth golf winner of the RTE Sportsperson of the Year. Picture: PA
Open champion Shane Lowry is the ninth golf winner of the RTE Sportsperson of the Year. Picture: PA
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Good on the Irish. While golf continues to be treated shabbily by the BBC, well done to RTÉ, the main television channel in Ireland, for helping to provide the plaudits the sport deserves.

On Saturday night, 24 hours before it was given all of 2.7 seconds on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show in Aberdeen, Shane Lowry’s Open Championship win at Royal Portrush in July resulted in him being crowned as the RTÉ Sport Awards 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.

Having been over in Dublin myself at the weekend, the word on the street beforehand was that Lowry might lose out to Katie Taylor, a boxer who made history by unifying all four world lightweight titles with a hard-fought victory in a fight at Madison Square Garden in New York.

However, a 12-person judging panel gave Lowry the nod, the personable Clara man becoming the ninth golfer to claim the prize, joining three-time winner Pádraig Harrington, two-time recipient Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Christy O’Connor jnr and the trio of Eamonn Darcy, Ronan Rafferty, and Des Smyth, who shared the award.

To put that into perspective, only two golfers have picked up the BBC equivalent since it was introduced in 1954, Welshman Dai Rees achieving the feat in 1957 before Nick Faldo followed in his footsteps 32 years later.

Tony Jacklin and Darren Clarke both finished runner-up twice apiece while McIlroy just missed out in 2014, the year he won back-to-back majors and sandwiched a World Golf Championship title triumph in between, to racing driver Lewis Hamilton.

For the record, Sandy Lyle had to settle for third spot the year he became the first British player to win the Masters in 1988, Ian Woosnam having ended up in the same position despite four wins and some Ryder Cup heroics at Muirfield Village the year before.

Catriona Matthew didn’t get a look in when she became the Women’s British Open champion only 11 weeks after giving birth to her second daughter in 2009, the year Ryan Giggs was the only football player in the last 18 years to win the award, and neither did Georgia Hall after she emulated that feat last year, when it went to cyclist Geraint Thomas.

Not that we should have been surprised, but yet again the BBC showed how little it thinks of golf and its apparent appeal in Sunday’s show, which, frankly, wouldn’t have been worth watching from a Scottish perspective if not for that man mountain, Doddie Weir, delivering an inspirational speech as he received the Helen Rollason Award.

Yes, Europe’s Solheim Cup success at Gleneagles was recognised by some highlights and a short interview with Matthew, the winning captain, on home soil, but, the brief Open Championship mention apart, that was it for a programme being broadcast from a golfing hotbed.

Matthew and her Solheim Cup players lost out to England’s cricket World Cup-winning side for both the Team of the Year and Moment of the Year Awards. Come on, Suzann Pettersen winning the Solheim Cup with the last putt in the last match to beat a strong US team bidding to make it three wins in a row surely deserved to secure something, especially for a Scottish captain in Scotland.

Sorry for being cynical, but I think Gary Lineker, one of the hosts, gave it away when he mentioned how “great it was for live cricket to be back on the BBC next year” at a time, of course, when golf gets pushed further into the background, with no live coverage of the Masters in April the latest unwanted development thanks to head of sport Barbara Slater’s seeming dislike of the game.

Thankfully, Lowry has had no need to gripe about his brilliant achievement not getting the recognition it deserves in his home country, the RTÉ award having been sandwiched by him also being awarded the 2019 prizes from the Irish Golf Writers and the Association of Golf Writers.

The Irish Golf Writers’ prize was handed over at an event at Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links that was a total contrast to the glitzy, over-the-top production by the BBC on Sunday night, Lowry probably taking the same delight in receiving that in front of fewer than 100 people than his success on live television two nights later.

The popular Open champion has certainly enjoyed showing off the Claret Jug over the past few months, the smile on his face saying it all when it was pointed out that a distinct tilt has earned it a new name of the “Leaning Tower of Clara”.