Chirkinian – CBS Golf Ayatollah

I never knew the Czar of CBS golf personally but had contact with the Ayatollah and the CBS golf crew over the years, especially my formative caddy days in the late 80s. The CBS compound was a haven for wayward, out-of-work, missed-the-cut, sometimes hung-over caddies looking for a couple of day’s work, a place to pass the time between bar stools or the next tournament, plus there was a delicious catered lunch every day. CBS knew how to televise golf and they took very good care of their crew, friends, PGA Tour staff and caddies. It was one of the few places on tour we actually garnered a bit of respect, a very small bit.

 

Lance Barrow sat at the right hand of Frank and Chuck Will was directly to his left. Chuck was my buddy, Lance was a fellow Wisconsin Badger and they were my link to the almighty Chirkinian.

Lance Barrow sat at the right hand of Frank and Chuck Will was directly to his left. Chuck was my buddy, Lance was a fellow Wisconsin Badger and they were my link to the almighty Chirkinian.

 

One of my favorite pastimes was sitting in Chuck’s office, well, by his desk in the trailer; Frank had the only office, listening to his never ending tales about golf and life while he efficiently dealt with every CBS spotter, scorer and volunteer over the phone or in person. He organized the peons who reported all the on-course information to the broadcasting trucks helping the announcers look intelligent. Chuck affectionately referred to most folks, if he liked you, as “asshole”.

Frank’s office was at the end of the trailer directly behind Chuck’s desk and these extemporaneous gatherings were often squelched when the “Ayatollah” entered the trailer bellowing, “Alright you little phuquers (pronounce it phonetically) let’s get to work, we’ve got a show to produce!” We’d scatter, grab our headsets, if we were spotting and segue to our respective posts. Often times, before we went live Frank would hammer us a bit. “Remember, you phuquers out there on the course, you’re our eyes and ears. Keep it short, keep it simple and don’t phuque up, we’re depending on you! You may be the most important aspect of our crew; you make the announcers look intelligent.”

If I wasn’t working I’d hang around as long as possible outside Frank’s door hoping for some juicy tidbits and a little camaraderie with the CBS stars.

The pregame commentator meeting with Nance, McCord, Lundquist, Summerall, Venturi, Lance and Chuck was often accompanied by a large beverage cooler and was dismissed just before airtime. This gathering was usually a follow-up to the previous night’s dinner attended by all at the area’s finest restaurant and garnished with a number of vintage bottles. Frank worked his troops hard, rode them with a whip and fed them the finest oats, barley and water between broadcasts.

There were often some raised voices during the meeting, well maybe just one, and the broadcast was ready to be done the right way, the “Ayatollah’s”, when they marched from the meeting to their towers.

Most often I was working as a spotter on a back nine par three giving clubs and any other pertinent information to the broadcast truck that relayed it on to the announcers. Our radios were supposed to be tuned to only one frequency but in between groups I entertained myself listening to the broadcasting crew’s channel and Frank’s pulpit. Fire and brimstone belted over the private airwaves and my ears were often singed after a few minutes of Frank’s tirades. His point was made quickly, profanely and intelligently; the announcers knew exactly what they should be doing and most importantly what they shouldn’t. Nobody argued, nobody complained, everybody understood there was one way to do a golf broadcast, the Chirkinian way, and the CBS shows were the best in the business.

Frank was short in stature, long in charisma and controlled every ego on the broadcasting crew. He also made sure caddies, camera personnel, spotters, friends; whoever stumbled into the compound had a good meal every day. He had the power to toss anyone from the CBS lunch tent but never did. If you had some sort of a connection with CBS personnel you were a welcomed for lunch, a five course spread that would do any mom and pop diner proud.

He set the standards and made sure everyone met that mark. When McCord first started he was worried about screwing up, saying the wrong thing or making a fool of himself. He confided his doubts with Frank.

The Ayatollah spoke. “Don’t worry about a thing; just keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll let you know when you’re screwing up but until then keep talking; I’ll tell you when to shut up also.” He controlled every aspect of the broadcast and that was that.

He did things intelligently, irreverently, methodically, spontaneously, but always with the perfection of each broadcast in mind. No one or nothing stood between him and the absolute best CBS golf could offer the fan. He created a masterpiece every week and televised golf has transgressed since his retirement.

Sitting in the back row of the production trailer occasionally I experienced Frank in action. I haven’t been to many operas, ballets or Broadway musicals but I imagine Frank and the maestro shared unique qualities. He brought the best out of everyone in the orchestra no matter what he had to say or do during the show. It was like he magically controlled the TV monitors in front of him and was able to blend every camera shot into a wonderfully choreographed, rehearsed screenplay not the live broadcast he was actually presenting.

He barked commands into his headset while his eyes darted across the twenty plus camera monitors televising the absolute best shot at the appropriate time keeping his announcers at bay so the viewers could watch golf. “Shut up and show me golf, boys. That’s what everyone wants to see.” The Ayatollah was definitely a maestro.

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