An Enduring TV Legend - This is a very long title that might cause problems.


Frank Chirkinian’s gone now, cancer taking him Friday at age 84, but his masterpieces endure.

You won’t see them in any museums, though you might catch pieces of them in Golf Channel highlight shows.

Mostly, they live on in our heads.

You know that picture you have in your mind of Jack Nicklaus coming out of a crouch and thrusting his over-sized putter in the air at Augusta National after making birdie at the 17th on his way to his magical Masters victory in 1986? If you weren’t there, Chirkinian put that picture in your head.

Just as he did the memory of Larry Mize leaping in the air after Mize chipped in from 140 feet at the 11th hole at Augusta National to beat Greg Norman in a playoff in 1987.

Just as he did the memory of Ben Crenshaw bending over and weeping after holing out to win the ’95 Masters in honor of his mentor Harvey Penick.

As the longtime executive producer of golf at CBS, Chirkinian was more storyteller than anything else as a TV director of sporting events, framing history as it was being made.

Though Chirkinian directed telecasts of the Olympics, Indy 500s, U.S. Open tennis and Triple Crown races, he is most closely associated with his work directing 38 consecutive Masters’ telecasts (1959-96). chronicled Chirkinian's induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Feb. 9.
Last month, with Chirkinian’s health failing in a battle with advanced cancer, the World Golf Hall of Fame convened in a special meeting to add Chirkinian to this year’s inductees. It’s sad that Chirkinian won’t be there for the ceremonies in May. It’s sad because he basically invented televised golf. There weren’t really any rules when Chirkinian got into the fledgling TV golf business, so he made up the rules as he went along.

Chirkinian created the modern scoreboard system using scores in relation to par. He gave us leaders at 4 under par. He gave us TV shots from towers, cranes and blimps. He gave us new sounds with microphones at tee boxes. He gave us cups painted white on the inside.

Chirkinian brought his vision to TV screens with an iron fist, but he also did so with a wicked sense of humor.

CBS employees called Chirkinian “The Ayatollah.” Former CBS announcer Pat Summerall pinned the nickname on Chirkinian, and Chirkinian loved it. He once described himself as “probably the most brilliant and innovative son of a bitch that ever worked in television.” Chirkinian's gift was being able to say that in a way that made you smile and believe him.

It was that charm that made him as beloved as he was respected.

Chirkinian knew Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus on a first-name basis. A four-time Emmy winner, he was such a giant personality that he played himself in the movie, 'Tin Cup.'

Even in retirement, Chirkinian made up the rules as he went along.

After purchasing Emerald Dunes Golf Club in West Palm Beach with partners, Chirkinian aimed to create a club like you’ve never seen before. At least, I’d never seen anything like what he intended to create when I met him there to do a story five years ago.

“It’s going to be an iconoclastic club,” Chirkinian said. “I don’t know if it’s my Armenian heritage, but there’s something that rails against being involved in any organization. I am a free spirit.

“We have one rule here: There are no rules. I’m bucking traditions. If you don’t have fun here, it’s your own fault.”

Chirkinian didn’t limit players to foursomes. You could go off in sixsomes if you wanted. He didn’t want small dinner tables in his dining room. He wanted long, stately tables “to break up cliques” and force members to mingle.

Not much for club championships, Chirkinian said he preferred winning the Chirkinian Cup. He said it was a special trophy shared with the winner of special competitions he would stage during cocktail hour from time to time. It was a closest-to-the-pin contest from the back door of the club lounge to the 18th green.

The winner got whatever amount of money was wagered that night, plus a swig from the Chirkinian Trophy, which epitomized the iconoclastic nature of the club and the man himself.

The Chirkinian Trophy was a porcelain bedpan.

“We fill it with Dom Perignon,” Chirkinian said.

Chirkinian’s imagination will be missed, so will his charm and good humor, but his masterpieces endure. 

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell