For the Love of Golf and Broadcasting
London native Tom Abbott '04, early in his collegiate golfing career at Mercer, was becoming familiar with his new Mercer teammates. One of his first introductions was to Riley Johnson, from whom Abbott asked his hometown. “Viiii-dellllll-yuh,” was the quick response. “Where?” Abbott responded. “You know, where they grow the onions,” Johnson replied. “Where?” Abbott responded again. So began the transformation of the young English lad who came to Mercer and the Deep South.
Abbott quickly picked up on the Southern accents of his golf teammates and other Mercer students and faculty, but it was his British accent that won over the hearts of those with whom he came into contact.
“How could anyone forget Tom Abbott?” said Professor Tammy Crutchfield in the Stetson School of Business and Economies (SSBE). “He was one of those students who just stood out in a crowd, not because he had the best GPA or always made the highest grade on an exam. That was not always the case. He was in the middle of whatever topic was being studied. He was full of life and personality.
“I did not know that Tom was on Golf Channel until I was channel surfing one day. It wasn’t his face that caught my attention, but his distinctive British voice. I immediately turned back and was not surprised at all. Excited, yes. Surprised, no,” she said.
Abbott said his first career choice as a young man growing up in Cheam, England, a suburb of London, was to become a professional golfer. However, having been raised in a home where his mother, Carol, worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for 27 years, broadcasting was his other natural love.
“In my choosing to come to Mercer, I learned it was a name-brand school with quality academics, a small school with a great environment,” he said. His initial contact with Mercer was an introduction to the Morris Purcell family from Macon while on an American vacation during his high school days. “They kept talking about this great school in Macon, where they lived, although, until I drove by the university later, I thought they said it was in Bacon.”
Eventually offered a scholarship to play for Mercer, Abbott realized the level of collegiate golf was really quite good. He left the Mercer golf team and turned to his other love — broadcasting.
Abbott went through the MAPS (Managed Academic Path to Success) program in the Business School. “The MAPS program was perfect for Tom,” Dr. Crutchfield said, “and he was one of our earliest graduates — one of our guinea pigs. Let’s just say that he passed the test. He had vision and focus. He told me and anyone else willing to listen that he was going to be on television. He took the courses that supported his vision — many of which were communication courses — and he interned in his field. Tom was one of the early MAPS students who helped us to understand how we should work with a student’s life calling and support them in this most critical leg of their life journey.”
“I incorporated some communications classes, public speaking, theater, PR, with business classes, marketing, sales, advertising and then added the practical experience with internships and extracurricular activities based around television production,” Abbott said. “I did an unofficial internship with European Tour Productions working on their live golf coverage for three weeks. Believe it or not, I deal with some of those same people on a regular basis through my work with European golf on Golf Channel.”
The success of the men’s basketball team in 2003 motivated Abbott to explore media capabilities. Among his inaugural projects was a 60-second wrap-up of Mercer sports — called “Mercer in a Minute” — on a local TV station. Abbott was the segment producer and host.
Becki Sandifer, new media designer in Mercer’s Office of Marketing Communications, was among the first to appreciate and realize Abbott’s broadcast potential. “He inquired as to how to go about the task of covering athletic events, and we discussed some ideas,” she said. “I was quite taken by his knowledge of the television business and his desire to provide the University with a bi-weekly sports show that students could watch on campus. I later learned that he grew up watching his mother work as a producer and technical director for the BBC in London, so he came by it honestly.”
Abbott also worked with fellow students on a weekly news show, contributing his sports segments, which became a regular viewing event. “When we began working on the ‘Mercer 99’ channel, as it was called then, and producing sports content for the network, it was, I would say, the most realistic preparation for the real world one could get,” he said. “We were effectively doing exactly what sports broadcasters and reporters do in small markets all over America. Being at a small school, we were able to get right in. At large schools, it is often a battle just to be involved with college productions.”
Following his graduation from Mercer in 2004, Abbott interned with CBS-46 in Atlanta, WGCL-TV. He became a sports anchor and reporter for WCAV-TV in Charlottesville, Va., and was part of the anchor team for the CBS affiliate’s first-ever newscast in November 2004.
Abbott joined Golf Channel in November 2005. He anchored the network’s nightly news show, Golf Central, for Golf Channel UK until the UK operation went off the air on Dec. 31, 2007. He also hosted Golf Channel UK’s LPGA Tour coverage alongside Laura Baugh.
In January 2008, Abbott moved over to anchor full-time for Golf Channel in the United States. His duties include reporting for Golf Central, hosting the network’s coverage of the PGA European Tour and holes commentating for live coverage of the LPGA Tour. Golf Central airs nightly at 6 and 11:30 p.m. and is broadcast into more than 82 million homes in the United States, and more than 40 million additional homes around the world.
“When I first came to the Golf Channel,” Abbott said, “I was initially working as an associate producer, producing stories for our news show, Golf Central, and occasionally doing some on-air work for Golf Central UK. I was pushing to be on-air in more of a full-time role and, about five months later, I got a call one morning from my boss. I was still in bed at the time, and he was telling me they had changed some plans for the Golf Channel UK’s broadcasting of the LPGA Tour, and they wanted me as a studio host, beginning in three hours. From that moment on, my life changed into an on-air role and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Tom possesses tenacity and a willingness to strive for what he wants,” Sandifer said. “He never asks why he can’t do something. He simply asks if he can try it differently. Sometimes we had to examine those other ways together when he covered sports here on campus. Tom has great wisdom, is willing to work hard and is always ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
“I never imagined Tom would walk off campus with diploma in hand and land on the desk as sports anchor for a CBS affiliate right out of school. Tom is on a great journey, and I am thrilled to know he made it to Golf Channel. After all, it was a golf scholarship that brought him to Macon in the first place.”