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Frank Chirkinian, ex-golf producer, dies

Frank Chirkinian, the longtime golf producer for CBS who helped turn the Masters into one of the most-watched events in sports television, has died. He was 84.

Chirkinian died Friday at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla., after a long bout with lung cancer, said his son, Frank Chirkinian Jr. He was surrounded by friends and family.

The television pioneer was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame just last month, during an emergency vote after it became widely known he was undergoing treatment for cancer. He will be inducted posthumously on May 9 in St. Augustine, Fla., in the lifetime achievement category.

Described as streetwise and direct, Chirkinian had said recently that getting into the Hall of Fame was the apex of his career - and what a robust career it was.

He produced the first PGA Championship in 1958, at Llanerch Country Club near his home in Philadelphia, and two years later the first televised Winter Olympics from Squaw Valley, Calif. He also dreamed up the idea of putting cameras on blimps to cover college football games.

But it was his work in golf that stood out, and at Augusta National in particular. He produced 38 editions of the Masters for CBS, bringing the majestic fairways and greens of Augusta to fans who could only dream of seeing them in person.

"Frank Chirkinian was a visionary in every sense of the word," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. "The sport of golf was presented on television to generations of fans in innovative, imaginative and entertaining ways because of Frank."

Chirkinian introduced high-angle cameras and new angles, put roving reporters 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 define modern golf coverage.

He even changed the way scores were delivered, according to par rather than by total.

He could be friendly and agreeable, but also surly and demanding - announcer Pat Summerall gave him the nickname "The Ayatollah" in the late 1970s, when the Shah of Iran was deposed and replaced by Khomeini. It was a name that Chirkinian acknowledged he enjoyed.

Chirkinian left his imprint on many of golf's defining moments, from the duels between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus that defined the 1960s and '70s, to Nicklaus' back-nine charge to win the 1986 Masters. He called Augusta National "the greatest theater in sports."

He retired from CBS in the late 1990s but could still be found on the golf course.

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