Doug Ferguson arguably is the most-read golf writer in the world. He doesn’t necessarily think that it is a good thing.
Ferguson is at his usual perch this week for the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, located just outside of Milwaukee. The veteran Associated Press golf writer will file a seemingly endless number of daily accounts about the tournament that will run in newspapers and digital platforms everywhere and anywhere.
Ferguson is grinding away in his 19th year on the beat, with a premium on the word “grind.” He maintains a grueling schedule, covering in the neighborhood of 28 tournaments per year. Days off are few and far between. What should have been a quiet Memorial Day holiday saw him in overdrive reporting on Tiger Woods’ DUI arrest.
While Ferguson hardly will be alone in the vast press room at Erin Hills, he no longer is joined by many prominent golf writers from years past. Now he is one of a handful of full-time golf reporters.
Few sports have been hit harder than golf when it comes to media cutbacks. Many newspapers have elected to ax the beat, considering it a luxury they can’t afford. In June 2015, I did a column for Poynter on how The Dallas Morning News wasn’t on hand for local son Jordan Spieth’s victory in that year’s Masters.
Most newspapers now opt to use Ferguson’s Associated Press stories to fill the void on golf. He has even gotten calls from friends at major papers saying, “Congratulations, you’re our new golf writer.”
Ferguson, though, hardly relishes his elevated prominence. Rather, he sees it as a byproduct of a terrible trend in media.
“The sad thing is that I’m trying to super-serve a larger audience,” Ferguson said. “If there’s only one voice out there, that’s not healthy for anyone. It hurts everyone.”
Ferguson still doesn’t understand why so many newspapers bailed on golf coverage. He believes the game serves the demographic of readers (older, more affluent) who still purchase actual newspapers.
“Some of the bigger papers are in great golf markets, and yet they don’t have a golf writer,” Ferguson said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
This isn’t to say that all golf coverage has disappeared. There are numerous blogs dedicated to the game.
However, increased volume has come with decreased quality, Ferguson said.
“It’s funny,” Ferguson said. “In some respects, there’s more copy about golf than ever before, and I read far less than when I first started. All the websites repeat themselves. It’s all star-driven and about getting the next click.”
Indeed, Ferguson points to an example of the work done by his good friend Jim McCabe, formerly of The Boston Globe and Golfweek.
“Jimmy would go out and find a story about something you didn’t know about a player,” Ferguson said. “Maybe someone like Pat Perez. They would be so interesting to read. You don’t see as much of that anymore.”
Ferguson can’t help but take note of the PGA Tour going all-in with PGATour.com. During most tournaments, the tour’s digital operation makes up a large chunk of the press room with its writers and social media crew.
Clearly, the PGA Tour has the most resources and the greatest access, but Ferguson contends golf fans don’t get the complete picture from its site. He says the content always comes from a biased and, let’s say, decidedly positive point of view.
“I don’t know a lot of people who go to the site except to look at the leaderboard,” Ferguson said. “You’re only going to see the birdie putt that gets made. You’re not going to see the birdie putt that gets missed.”
For his part, Ferguson still loves to get to the heart of a story. He believes in the importance of working the locker room to get “the better context” of what’s happening on and off the course. When not on deadline, he often is walking the fairways, enabling him to see things that get overlooked on television.
Ferguson is out there fighting the good fight with old-school reporting. But he knows his kind is dwindling.
Ferguson recalled he had to correct someone when told that he is “going to be the last man standing” among golf reporters.
“I said, ‘I don’t think that’s true,’” Ferguson said. “It’ll probably be GolfChannel.com and PGATour.com, (outlets that have TV deals with the PGA Tour). Hopefully, that day never comes, but if it did, that would be my guess of what happens.”