Golf Channel Plays 'Golf in America'

The Golf Channel is teeing up a new documentary series that co-producer Tom Farrell hopes will be the golf version of HBO's Real Sports.

Golf in America will bow April 11 for the first of its 10 half-hour installments. Produced by Farrell and Steve Rotfeld under their independent banner, WorkShop, the first episode will focus on the Memphis-area course purchased by Justin Timberlake.

The Big Creek Golf Course was targeted for residential development, and since Timberlake had a sentimental attachment to it—his stepdad took him there when he was a toddler—he bought it for $800,000 and is renovating the course. It will be an eco-friendly renovation and is scheduled to open this summer.

The second episode is about the Prison View golf course at Louisiana State Penitentiary, where the prisoners tend the greens but are not permitted to play.

WorkShop is also behind the upcoming show The Haney Project, which features Tiger Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney, trying to fix Charles Barkley's swing. “It's like that show Intervention,” Rotfeld says. “You have to reach the bottom in order to seek help.”

The series, which began shooting last August, will debut March 2 with the first of its six half-hours plus a one-hour finale, which is to feature Barkley as a much-transformed golfer. That finale has yet to be filmed.

Rotfeld notes that Barkley's recent DUI arrest (which prompted a suspension from his duties on TNT's Inside the NBA) caused only a minor hiccup in his work with Haney. “It slowed us down for 30 days because he was going under the radar,” Rotfeld says. “But he's back in the saddle.”

The Haney Project will get a cross-platform promotional push via Web vignettes on TNT's site. But what really needs help is Barkley's swing.

In the show, Haney pronounced it a “disaster.” Woods can be seen online gleefully imitating Barkley's stuttering swing. And Barkley himself admits that he is “choking like a dog.”

“We want it to be wrapped up with a nice bow on it,” says Farrell of the finale. “But we can't predict how it's going to end.”

As for the Golf Channel, both new shows play into its strategy of sprinkling in a dose of celebrity with all of the instruction and live-event coverage. “We've really tapped into the celebrity aspect [of instruction],” says Jay Kossoff, the network's VP of original productions. “We see the Haney/Barkley combination as certainly a kickoff point to doing more of this type of programming.”

The network will also begin a new season of Playing Lessons on April 13, featuring a roster of A-listers including Mark Wahlberg, Clint Eastwood, Johnny Damon, Luke Wilson and Julius Erving. “The lessons, regardless of who's getting them, all relate to every golfer out there,” Kossoff adds, “so instruction disguised as an entertainment show is proving to be a lot of fun and very watchable.”