Beauty, Brains, and the Joy of Golf—Kelly Tilghman

By Jim Pasero

“Would I like to see a woman member at Augusta—absolutely. Is it Augusta’s right to decide who is a member and who isn’t? Of course it is. It’s in the U.S. Constitution.”

Kelly Tilghman has strong opinions, but as a young rising female sports anchor in an extremely male-dominated world, she’s entitled, and she’s got the experience to back them up.

For the last three years she’s been on the grounds at Augusta, Georgia covering the Masters for The Golf Channel. “I was there last year when the issue of no women members at Augusta came to a head…but being a woman on the grounds, I wasn’t treated any different than the men.”

Why shouldn’t Kelly Tilghman be treated well? She’s a rising star in sports television. “I’d like to think it’s my knowledge of the game that has propelled my career,” says Tilghman. She doesn’t have a lot of patience for “beautiful women in front of the camera that can’t back it up with brains. I don’t want to judge them, but on my end…sure I’ll make sure that my hair is in place, that my makeup is set, but in the end I’m going to bat fully armed with my subject matter. I don’t want to be known as the prettiest girl in sports television, I want to be known as the girl you can count on when it matters.”

Maybe Kelly Tilghman gets respect in the world of golf and sports television because, like Arnold Palmer, the founder of The Golf Channel, she grew up on a golf course. The course, called Gator Hole Golf Course, was owned by her father and uncle in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and was designed by world-renowned architect Rees Jones.

Tilghman’s father, when he wasn’t busy running a family-owned golf course, moonlighted for 14 years as the mayor of North Myrtle Beach. (“Most likely a Republican,” she speculates.) Tilghman, the oldest of five children, grew up on the course. “I worked every possible odd job from parking carts to shagging range balls to working in the snack bar.”

Another reason Tilghman gets respect is simple—it’s because of her brains. In the late ’80s Tilghman attended Duke University, where she played on the school’s golf team and earned her degree in history. “My interest was international relations and the Cold War,” says Tilghman.

After graduation, Tilghman played five years of professional golf on the Australian Tour and in Europe. “I thought about law school,” says Tilghman, but then came a career in golf, and eventually “on-air” with The Golf Channel.

Today, she and Peter Jacobsen have something important in common. They both star in three shows on The Golf Channel. Tilghman hosts “Academy Live” (an instruction show on Monday nights), provides analysis for the “Sprint Pre and Post Game Show” (as she did at this year’s Masters) and moderates “The Grey Goose 19th Hole Show,” which she co-hosts with Tampa Bay-based national radio personality Steve Duemig, and NBC and TNT sports commentator Charles Davis.

“The Grey Goose 19th Hole” is filmed in a bar in Orlando and the show for lack of a better word is just…fun. Duemig, as advertised by Tilghman and The Golf Channel, is Caucasian, corpulent, Republican and a raw meat eater. Davis is African American, fit, a Democrat and likes sushi. The two seldom get along, and Tilghman referees while the group discusses the controversies of the day. In Tilghman’s words the show “leaves no stone unturned.”

Once in awhile, Duemig and Davis do agree, as in an episode earlier this year when both ridiculed Mianne Bagger, the Australian golfer. In ’95 Bagger underwent a sex-change operation and wanted to compete on the Australian women’s professional tour. Both Duemig and Davis referred to the athlete in question as an “it,” only to be admonished by Tilghman, who said, “The ‘it’ is a ‘she.’”

Lesson learned. Case closed. We move on.

While Tilghman’s bottom line is not about gender battles, she does realize that being a pioneer in sports television is not a small deal. After all, there were female news anchors long before there were female sports anchors.

“Without beginning a Martha Burke campaign (President of NOW), I believe that I can help the women’s movement by doing the best job that I can do everyday on the air. I don’t see myself in a contest of a woman vs. a man in front of the camera.”

Tilghman adds that it is not a competition, though the issue of gender does linger. “If I can erase gender, if the male viewer says, she knows what she’s talking about, if he takes that conversation to the water cooler at work the next day and talks about the point I’ve made, then I’ve done my job.”

That week in August when the world’s best senior golfers compete in The Jeld-Wen Tradition, will find Kelly Tilghman doing her job back in Florida, but talking a lot about Oregon. “It’s a big week, and I’ll be staying back in Orlando and anchoring ‘Golf Central.’”

Picture it: When Peter Jacobsen finishes hosting “Peter and Friends” from the balcony of The Reserve Clubhouse he’ll be throwing it back to the network—back to “Golf Central” and back to Kelly Tilghman, who exudes no nonsense… but a lot of joy about golf.

Kelly, Oregon wishes you were here.

BrainstormNW - May 2004

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