NEW YORK (AP)—Frank Chirkinian, the longtime golf producer for CBS whohelped turn the Masters into one of the most watched events in sportstelevision, has died. He was 84.
Chirkinian died Friday at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla., after a longbout with lung cancer, his son told The Associated Press. He was surrounded byfriends and family.
The television pioneer was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame just lastmonth, during an emergency vote after it became widely known he was undergoingtreatment for cancer. He will be inducted posthumously on May 9 in St.Augustine, Fla., in the lifetime achievement category.
“He squeezed every drop of life out of his 84 years,” his son, FrankChirkinian Jr., said during a phone interview. “I don’t think there wasanything left.”
Described as street-wise and direct, Chirkinian had said recently thatgetting into the Hall of Fame was the apex of his career—and what a robustcareer it was.
He produced the first PGA Championship in 1958, at Llanerch Country Clubnear his home in Philadelphia, and two years later the first televised WinterOlympics from Squaw Valley. He also dreamed up the idea of putting cameras onblimps to cover college football games.
But it was his work in golf that stood out, and at Augusta National inparticular.
He produced 38 editions of the Masters for CBS, bringing the majesticfairways and greens of Augusta to fans who could only dream of seeing them inperson.
“Frank Chirkinian was a visionary in every sense of the word,” PGA Tourcommissioner Tim Finchem said. “He was an artist. The sport of golf waspresented on television to generations of fans in innovative, imaginative andentertaining ways because of Frank.”
Chirkinian introduced high-angle cameras and new angles, put rovingreporters on the grounds, and made sure to capture the unique blend of sounds—the club hitting the ball, the ball falling into the cup—that came to definemodern golf coverage. He even changed the way scores were delivered, accordingto par rather than by total.
He could be friendly and agreeable, but also surly and demanding—announcerPat Summerall gave him the nickname “The Ayatollah” in the late 1970s, whenthe Shah of Iran was deposed and replaced by Khomeini. It was a name thatChirkinian acknowledged he enjoyed.
“He was a friend, a mentor and a father figure to me,” broadcaster JimNantz said. “I was blessed to have his guiding hand extended to me at the ageof 26. I am comforted knowing, as long as there is golf being televised anywherein the world, Frank Chirkinian lives.”
Chirkinian left his imprint on many of golf’s defining moments, from theduels between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus that defined the 1960s and ’70s,to the Golden Bear’s back-nine charge to win the 1986 Masters. He called AugustaNational “the greatest theater in sports.”
He retired from CBS in the late 1990s, but could still be found on the golfcourse.
“Frank Chirkinian was a true pioneer,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBCSports. “There certainly would not have been a golf television business withouthim. And golf may never have developed into such a robust business without theway he connected the game on the course to the viewer at home. He will be sorelymissed but the game is better forever because of him.”
Critics recognized his passion and devotion by awarding him five Emmys and aPeabody during his career. He also was inducted into the Sports BroadcastingHall of Fame.
“The golfing world lost a great ambassador to the game,” said LanceBarrow, coordinating producer of golf and the NFL for CBS Sports. “He did asmuch for the game as anyone who has ever been associated with golf. His legacywill live on forever.”
That’s why, when word spread that he was undergoing cancer treatment, theHall of Fame board—including members of the PGA Tour, LPGA, PGA of America andEuropean Tour—held an emergency vote last month to elect him alongside ErnieEls , Doug Ford, Jumbo Ozaki, Jock Hutchison and George H.W. Bush. Those fivewere elected last September.
Chirkinian had hoped to make the induction in May, and his son said he tapedan acceptance speech that will be played during the ceremony. His family plansto attend in his honor.
“I think it really brightened his last few days,” Frank Chirkinian Jr.said. “I think this was kind of the crowning achievement for his career.”
Associated Press writer David Fischer in Miami contributed to this story.