If you've been wondering, as I have, what a video magazine looks like, or views like, or plays like, or exactly what it is you do to interact with this fledgling genre, you're in good company. John Morris, president of The Wide World of Golf video magazine, has often wondered the same thing, and he has put out five issues since January. "There's no prototype to base this on," says Morris, a former director of communications for the U.S. Golf Association.
A one-year subscription to The Wide World of Golf costs $99.95. Every two months the magazine's 20,000 subscribers receive by UPS 60-minute videotapes that they can pop into their VCRs and watch at their convenience. Coproduced by Terry Jastrow and jointly owned by ABC Sports and Jack Nicklaus Productions, Wide World offers viewers instruction in addition to interviews, opinions and news items—a formula modeled after Golf Digest and Golf magazines. There are no commercials on the tapes, and if you are a golf fan, I can practically guarantee you that the hour will pass quickly.
The instructional pieces have generally been excellent. This is one area where a video magazine has an immeasurable advantage over a printed periodical, which must rely on written words, still photographs and drawings to describe that which is never static—a golf swing. One of Wide World's strongest instructional segments is hosted by Steve Melnyk, who in each issue isolates one aspect of the golf swing—the grip, for example—and then proceeds to show how the game's stars disagree on the dos and don'ts. First, Nicklaus tells us to place the club across the palm of the left hand. Then Bobby Jones informs us that the club should be gripped mainly by the fingers. Nicklaus uses an interlocking grip. Jones prefers the overlap. Greg Norman prefers a combination of the two.
In another segment, Nicklaus states unequivocally that one's head must not move during the swing, while Curtis Strange says just as emphatically that it must, or undue pressure will be put on the back. Could Nicklaus's recent back ailments be related to his refusal to move his head? Wide World fails to ask that provocative question, but Melnyk does a good job of putting all the conflicting advice into perspective, reassuring viewers that there's more than one way to swing a club.
That notion is reinforced during instructional segments hosted by Dave Marr, in which he analyzes the swings of four masters: Jones, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. In his prime, each of these players had his idiosyncrasies-Jones was remarkably wristy, and Nelson dropped his head dramatically during the downswing—and the old footage is marvelous. Wide World also provides lessons from teaching pros, who tend to be more articulate than touring pros, explaining how to hit specific shots—draws, fades, sand shots and the like.
The feature segments are less even. In the first few issues, the travel pieces were so dismal that they had me reaching for the fast-forward button. On the other hand, Wide World has certainly given Nicklaus fans their money's worth. Over several issues Nicklaus regales viewers with stories about everything from his honeymoon to a practical joke that was played on him at the Crosby. Unfortunately, Nicklaus is a game but dreadful storyteller. Less of the Golden Bear would improve the features.
Many of the interviews, however, have been first-rate. Nelson's and Gene Sarazen's recollections of bygone years are charming, and Payne Stewart, who often comes across as a boorish braggart at press conferences, is positively embraceable while sharing memories of his late father, a good amateur golfer.
Because of the bimonthly format of Wide World, the news items are outdated—Hale Irwin's victory at the U.S. Open in June is not mentioned until the September-October issue—but the magazine tries to stay topical. After showing highlights of Irwin's win, for example, Wide World points out that each of his three U.S. Open victories included a pivotal two-iron shot. We then get a segment of tips—albeit vague ones—from Irwin on how to hit that difficult club.
The bottom line? The Wide World of Golf video magazine is a good introduction to an impressive new medium, but the print magazine is not in peril. One advantage that print will always have is that if you don't like what you're reading, all you have to do is flip the page. Please do so now. No rewind is necessary.
To subscribe to Wide World of Golf, phone 800-433-3522.
In the series, Marr analyzes Jones's swing as well as those of other giants of the game.