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Comcast makes big financial bet on Golf Channel

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, an avid golfer, has decided to up the stakes on his cable network's Golf Channel, hoping to turn it into a premium outlet for golf programming and events.

The Golf Channel is exclusively carrying every round of the first three PGA Tour events of 2007. This means that for the first time in four decades, the recent Bob Hope Chrysler Classic wasn't shown on network television.

The new lineup is part of the Golf Channel's unprecedented 15-year partnership with the tour that kicked off in January. The deal gives the channel early round coverage of every regular PGA Tour event, and every round at 13 PGA Tour tournaments. NBC and CBS pick up the weekend coverage for 31 tournaments.

The deal dramatically boosts the Golf Channel's tournament programming, but is also likely to generate big losses in the early years for Comcast, the network's parent company and the nation's largest cable operator.

Co-founded by Arnold Palmer 12 years ago, the Golf Channel is available in about 75 million homes — compared with 92 million homes for ESPN. The channel currently is in at least 85 percent of basic video tiers.

Last year, Walt Disney's ABC and ESPN ended negotiations with the PGA Tour, contending they couldn't generate enough advertising revenue to offset the broadcast rights fees.

In addition, the Golf Channel has no rights to the five biggest events in golf: the Masters, the U.S. and British opens, the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup. Those events have separate broadcast deals.