Cadillac Days Augusta National Leonard Kamsler Gene Stout

Turn the Cameras On

The evolution of the Masters broadcast

Part 4 | The Making of The Masters | Turn the Cameras On The Golfer's Journal Podcast

Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part TGJ Podcast series which chronicles the origin, evolution and inner-workings of The Masters. You can find previously published episodes here. The series is voiced by David Owen and based on his best-selling book, The Making of the Masters. Below you can find a transcript of this entire episode.

In the fall of 1945, as Augusta National was emerging from its wartime hibernation, Roberts wrote a lengthy memorandum to James Searle, the club’s manager, enumerating steps that had to be taken to prepare for the first postwar Masters, in 1946. “I don’t suppose anyone will be ready to do anything in the way of television,” he wrote in passing, “but if they can by next April, I will naturally want to hear about it.” Roberts was surely one of the few people at that time who were even thinking about the possibility of showing golf on TV. Fewer than six thousand television sets were in use in the United States, and they had screens the size of a hand.

Roberts’s interest in broadcasting dated back to the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament, in 1934, which had been covered on radio by CBS. That was the first nationwide broadcast of a golf tournament. Roberts felt the radio program was important both because it enabled distant fans to follow the tournament and because it helped stir up interest among potential ticket buyers. In the early forties, CBS declined to renew its radio contract, and the club signed instead with NBC. That agreement also gave NBC the right to televise the tournament—and as late as two months before the 1947 Masters, Roberts believed that it might do so. But NBC declined. Later that year, a local station in Missouri covered the final hole of the 1947 U.S. Open, at St. Louis Country Club. That program—the first television broadcast of a golf tournament—was not a great success. Golf was poorly suited to the TV technology of the day, since the game was played outdoors in unpredictable lighting, and the competitors roamed over an area that was hard to cover with stationary cameras. (Not surprisingly, the most heavily televised sports in the early years of TV were boxing and wrestling, both of which could be lighted artificially and neither of which required agile camera work.) Interest among the networks in providing live coverage of golf essentially vanished. It was revived in 1953 by a broadcast of part of that year’s World Championship of Golf, at Tam O’Shanter Country Club, near Chicago. The broadcast was crude, the audience was limited, and the cameras showed only the eighteenth hole—but the tournament ended with high drama, as Lew Worsham won by holing his final approach shot, on camera, for an eagle. Jimmy Demaret, who was providing the on-air commentary, cried, “The son of a bitch holed it!”

The first live nationwide telecast of a tournament took place the following year, when NBC provided limited coverage of the 1954 U.S. Open, at Baltusrol, beginning at the seventeenth green. Roberts wanted the Masters to be carried on television, too, but NBC wasn’t interested; the network’s (understandable) feeling may have been that one major money-losing golf program was enough. Still, Roberts persisted, and early in 1956, under pressure from the club, Tom S. Gallery, who was the director of sports at NBC, wrote to Roberts to say that NBC was declining to exercise the renewal option in its current contract. That meant, Gallery wrote, that Augusta National was “free to make such arrangements as it sees fit with respect to the radio and television rights to the 1956 Tournament.” The club hastily made an agreement with CBS, and the first Masters television broadcast took place less than a month later. Golf fans in most of the country were able to watch live as Jack Burke, Jr., beat Ken Venturi by a single stroke.

That first Masters broadcast was uneven in the extreme, and it lasted just a total of two and a half hours over three days, but it was a hit with golf fans. The number of viewers was estimated at ten million, and Roberts later learned that in the grill rooms of golf clubs all over the country, groups of golfers had gathered to catch glimpses of the action and of the course. Four days after the tournament, William MacPhail, who was the director of sports at CBS, wrote to Roberts, “Our department has been literally flooded by letters from all parts of the country expressing appreciation that this tournament was brought to the nation. So many commented on the unbelievable beauty of the course, the tremendous crowds in attendance, and the overall fine staging of the event.” That viewers were able to acquire even vague impressions of the course is remarkable, given the low resolution of the snowy; black-and-white pictures. But golf fans for years had read about and seen photographs of the fabled tournament at Augusta National, and now for the first time they had had a chance to watch the action for themselves. Roberts was pleased, too. In a letter to William Paley, who was the chief executive of CBS, he wrote that the program had been “the first televised golf tournament broadcast which could be called a credit to a network or a tournament.”

That the broadcast had been a success was in no small measure due to the efforts of Roberts himself. CBS had intended to provide only minimal coverage, concentrating on the eighteenth hole. To induce the network to put more cameras on the course, Roberts offered to cut in half the $10,000 fee that CBS had agreed to pay the club—if CBS would invest the extra $5,000 in a second transmission station, to be situated near the fifteenth green. The station enabled CBS to place more cameras on more holes. Roberts confirmed the offer in a telegram a week before the tournament, and CBS agreed to extend its coverage to the fifteenth fairway. Merritt Coleman, a CBS executive, wired Roberts later that the tournament had been “one of the most exciting sports programs I have ever witnessed and your suggestion of a double pick up at the 15th and 18th holes made the telecasts great.”

Leonard Kamsler Augusta National The Masters
The cameras on No. 18 roll as Nicklaus captures his first green jacket in 1963. Photo: Leonard Kamsler

During the Masters that year, Roberts had devoted virtually all of his time to the broadcast, which he called “the most important current Tournament development.” He had been struck by the power of television during Eisenhower’s presidential campaign—the first in which TV played a significant role—and he believed that the new medium had the potential to transform not only the Masters but all of golf. Television would broaden the popularity of the game, he believed, and the revenues from commercials (assuming that advertisers could be found) would enable Augusta National, the U.S.G.A., and other tournament sponsors to pay bigger prizes. Those benefits were not yet obvious to the players; in the fall of 1956, Byron Nelson wrote to Roberts to say, among other things, that a number of the golfers at that year’s Masters had complained that the television equipment and personnel had intruded on the competition. Roberts had to remind him that if televised golf caught on, as he expected it to, the golfers themselves would be the principal beneficiaries. Television, Roberts believed, could turn the poorly paid itinerant players of the early American golf tours into true professional athletes.

Despite his eagerness to build the tournament’s purse, Roberts’s interest in television was not mercenary. In 1958, shortly after American Express had signed on as the program’s first sponsor, Roberts warned Ralph Reed, the company’s president (and a member of the club), not to become carried away. “The average golf fan takes his golf pretty seriously,” Roberts wrote, adding that “nothing but extreme annoyance could result from untimely, too long or too frequent commercials.” He believed that interruptions should be held to a minimum, and that if networks, tournament sponsors, players, or advertisers became greedy they would do themselves and the game more harm than good. In later years, Roberts worried that the U.S.G.A. was in danger of being seduced by television advertising dollars—which he felt the organization didn’t need—and he urged its executives to accept lower broadcast fees for the U.S. Open in exchange for guaranteed coverage of tournaments with less commercial appeal.

Paradoxically, perhaps, Roberts’s focus on quality rather than money made him a feared negotiator at CBS. He was attentive to financial details, but for him the main issue was always the content of the program. He was willing to accept lower fees in exchange for commitments from CBS to improve the show. He expected the network each year to outdo its previous efforts, and he spelled out exactly how he felt the broadcast could be improved. His approach to television was identical to his approach to the tournament. He believed that every year was a learning experience, and that no matter how good the current year’s effort might have been, the next could always be better. Shortly after the tournament each year, Roberts would assemble a group of as many as several dozen club members, local broadcasters, and others to review the television coverage of the tournament that had just ended. The group’s observations were distilled into a detailed critique, whose arrival in New York CBS executives came to dread. The critiques would generally begin with praise—”It was our impression that CBS made an all-out effort to do an outstanding job and we are delighted that they did so”—but the club’s intention was not to pat the broadcasters on the back. As Roberts explained at the beginning of one of the reviews, “Our purpose, frankly, was to look for things to criticize in order that further improvements may be undertaken in the future.”

Roberts was an exacting and often an exasperating partner. Despite the discomfort of the network’s executives, though, pressure from the club had a beneficial and quite noticeable impact on the show. The Masters telecast has always served as a sort of advanced-degree program for sports broadcasters. Most of the people who have worked on the show have said that doing so made them better at doing their jobs. The program since the beginning has been viewed by golf fans as the gold standard in televised golf, and it has had a major impact on the way golf is televised all over the world. A significant part of the credit for that achievement belongs to Roberts and other members of the club, who during the early years repeatedly pushed a sometimes reluctant CBS to refine a program that both the network and the club believed to be very good already.

Copies of the earliest Masters broadcasts are hard to find. The networks did not routinely make copies of live programs in the early years. The first commercial videotape recorders weren’t introduced until 1956, and they were so balky and expensive that for years they could not be used casually. (In 1953, RCA had built a prototype that needed more than a mile of tape to make a fuzzy four-minute recording. The company’s engineers achieved a dramatic improvement in picture quality by removing the first row of seats from an auditorium in which the machine was to be demonstrated, thereby preventing anyone from sitting close enough to see how poorly it worked.) For a long time, the only easy way to record a live television broadcast for later viewing outside of a television studio was to make a film directly from a TV screen; such a recording was called a kinescope. The networks didn’t always make kinescopes of live programs, and when they did make them they didn’t always keep them, and when they did keep them they didn’t always store them carefully. Augusta National today owns videotaped copies of Masters broadcasts from the early sixties. The Museum of Television and Radio, in New York, has a copy of a Masters kinescope from 1958. It also has a recording of the final day’s broadcast in 1963. (The programs shown on the Golf Channel’s Masters Classics series and ESPN Classic are not copies of early television broadcasts; they are movies that were commissioned by the club and filmed by a separate crew, beginning in 1961.)

The scarcity of recordings of early Masters broadcasts may not be a huge loss. By modern standards, the old shows were dreadful. The announcers, who for the most part had been trained in radio and were accustomed to sports that moved far faster than golf, tended to talk too quickly and too much and to make mistakes that modern golf fans would find laughable. Jim McKay—who was a commentator on Masters broadcasts until he left CBS, shortly after the tournament in 1961, to join ABC’s Wide World of Sports—was as breathless as if he were providing the play-by-play for a Stanley Cup playoff game. He spoke of “Ben Snead” and “the National Golf Club,” and he reported the scoring of the players with ponderous arithmetic: “Fred Hawkins lies, at this time, 69. If he drops this putt, he’ll have a 70, and that will bring him in at 284.” In 1958, Hawkins and Doug Ford both had longish putts on the final hole to tie the leader, Arnold Palmer, who had finished nearly an hour before; neither putt came close to the hole. The camera cut to Jimmy Demaret, who was standing woodenly on the clubhouse porch. He turned to Claude Harmon, who was standing woodenly beside him, and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more exciting finish to the Masters.” It was not scintillating television.

But the potential was there, and Roberts pushed CBS to try for more. Following the first broadcast in 1956, for example, he urged the network to bury its cables on the course, in order to get them out of the way and out of sight (and to force a wavering CBS to make a commitment to carry the tournament in subsequent years); to extend Sunday’s coverage from an hour to an hour and a half, in order to increase the likelihood that the main action at the end of the tournament would not be finished before the broadcast began; and to put more cameras on the course—especially portable cameras, if those were available. CBS resisted all three suggestions. It argued that buried cables might deteriorate, that a longer Sunday telecast wasn’t needed, and that seven cameras were plenty for a golf tournament. CBS also reserved the right to preempt the broadcast if, say, a baseball game ran longer than expected.

CBS eventually came around to Roberts’s point of view on those and other issues. Burying the cables turned out to save money and to improve transmission quality (although deterioration was indeed a problem); in 1958, CBS lengthened the Sunday broadcast by thirty minutes—although it did so at the expense of the Friday broadcast, which it permanently eliminated; and the network added an eighth camera in 1957, a ninth in 1958, a tenth in 1959, and an eleventh in 1961. (Today, CBS uses twenty-nine cameras in its coverage of the tournament.)

Even with more cameras, though, CBS executives were not interested in showing more than four holes, despite repeated requests from Roberts, Jones, and others that the coverage be extended farther back into the course. The club’s television committee, in its report on the 1957 broadcast, wrote, ”.A most picturesque part of our golf course lies about the twelfth hole and thirteenth green. An attempt should be made through employment of portable cameras to bring this area into live broadcast. If this is impractical, a few films of the area could be shown.”

CBS disagreed that there was any need to show more of the course, even on film, despite the fact that the twelfth and thirteenth holes were among the most famous holes on the course—and would become even more famous the following year, when Herbert Warren Wind would give them the name Amen Corner. Seven years later, Roberts—after reading in Golf World that CBS was planning to cover six holes at a lesser tournament, the 1964 Carling World Open, at Oakland Hills—wrote to Jack Dolph, who was then the network’s director of sports, to ask why the Masters could not be given the same treatment. “It’s true that we are covering six holes of the Carling’s rather than four as we do at the Masters,” Dolph replied. “This was a commitment made in acquiring the rights to the Tournament; one on which Carling’s insisted. We have grave doubts that this extra hole coverage will add to the overall impact of the tournament, and we are, in fact, giving the extra two holes the very minimum of coverage.” Roberts did not give up, and in 1966 CBS finally did agree to extend its coverage beyond the fifteenth hole, by adding a camera near the fourteenth green. Coverage of the thirteenth green began two years later in 1968 (after Roberts suggested moving a camera from the far less interesting fourteenth tee). The twelfth hole wasn’t shown live until five years after that, in 1973—sixteen years after the club’s original suggestion.

The twelfth hole might not have received its own camera even in 1973 if Roberts had not effectively tricked CBS into putting one there. The year before, ABC Sports had asked the club for permission to film the twelfth hole during that year’s Masters for a prime-time sports special that it planned to broadcast on the Monday following the tournament. “As you know,” an ABC executive wrote to Roberts, “this hole has never been shown on the live presentations of the Masters, and our segment, which would probably be only five or ten minutes in length, would not only show how some of the top finishers play this hole but would also capture the many moods and some of the unique happenings that transpire at this locale.” Roberts—who knew very well that ABC for years had yearned to win the Masters contract away from CBS—agreed. One year later, CBS for the first time placed its own camera on the twelfth hole.

Leonard Kamsler Augusta National The Masters security
Media center security in 1977. Photo: Leonard Kamsler

Over the years, Roberts and other club members made many suggestions that CBS resisted but later adopted in whole or in part. In 1956, for example, Roberts pointed out that a simple way to convey the standing of the tournament’s leaders would be to occasionally focus a camera on the leaderboard, near the eighteenth hole, thereby circumventing the sometimes faulty reckoning of the announcers. (“According to our calculations … ,” Jim McKay would begin—making it sound as though scores could be computed only with difficulty and might be subject to later revision.) Scores were a problem for the announcers until 1960, when Augusta National introduced a simple system that has been used at golf tournaments ever since: the over-and-under system, in which the standing of the players is represented by the number of strokes above or below par. After the new method was implemented, Roberts had to point out to CBS in a letter that showing the scoreboards on camera no longer made sense—since red and green numerals were indistinguishable on black-and-white television screens. Roberts also received a letter from a ticket holder who pointed out that the scoreboards were incomprehensible to anyone who was red-green color-blind. In response, Roberts suggested that color-blind patrons seek assistance from club members—who, he noted, could readily be identified by their green jackets. (This story is sometimes offered by older club members as proof that Roberts had a sense of humor—a point not universally conceded.)

During the early years, the club also urged CBS to shoot film footage of holes it did not intend to cover live, to take pictures of the course from the air, and to construct scale models or make accurate illustrations of the holes. CBS at first rejected all those ideas as impractical or too expensive. (“The use of maps or models for visual indication of the distance and lie of balls between tee and green also would overtax our facilities and staff,” a network executive wrote.) CBS eventually did make drawings of the holes—and later built models—but the early representations were confusing, undoubtedly because they were prepared at the last minute. Each of the drawings used in the 1958 broadcast, for example, consisted of two pieces of slightly different-colored paper placed side by side. The two halves of each drawing were rendered in different scales, so that the edges of fairways and the banks of ponds did not meet up. The hole location on each green was marked by a white ring that looked like a small frosted donut. The low quality and inaccuracy of the drawings made Roberts furious. It took until the mid-sixties for CBS to produce visual aids that Roberts felt enhanced the show.

Roberts was also concerned with the inventiveness of the camerawork. In 1964, he suggested that CBS attempt to shoot pictures of airborne golf balls from the golfer’s perspective, by placing a camera at the back of one of the tees. Camera operators in those days were less successful than they are today at following the flight of a ball, a difficult feat that has been made simpler by the development of better and less cumbersome cameras. Roberts’s idea was that a ball would be easier to track from behind, and that a camera placed in back of a tee would clearly show whether a shot was hooking, slicing, or flying straight—information that Roberts felt “would be very meaningful to golfers.” The club added a camera platform behind the sixteenth tee and suggested that CBS use it, although the network was skeptical. In later years, of course, camera shots from that angle became a standard feature of all golf broadcasts.

Roberts had a striking intuitive sense of how to structure a compelling television show. Typical of his insights were those contained in a letter he wrote to MacPhail following the broadcast in 1964. Roberts had felt that Sunday’s broadcast that year had come close to being the best yet, but that Saturday’s had been “the poorest ever.” The problem with Saturday’s broadcast was that Arnold Palmer, who was running away with the tournament, played faster than anticipated—at one point, his twosome played through the twosome ahead and had finished his round by the time CBS came on the air. (Playing through was common in those years. Nicklaus’s twosome played through Hogan’s the following day.) Roberts felt that Palmer’s absence from the broadcast had left those directing the program “upset to a point of not being able to think clearly or act rationally.” In particular, he felt, CBS had missed a chance “to present the situation in a much more interesting fashion.” He wrote:

“I had spoken on previous occasions to your people about making a contest between the leader and the record book if and when one player should dominate the tournament.

During the entire telecast on Saturday, not one word was said about Palmer having an opportunity to become the first four-time winner of the Masters. Likewise, nothing was said about Palmer having a chance to tie or better the all-time tournament record score established by Ben Hogan in 1953. Not a word was uttered about Palmer’s opportunity to tie or better the 7 stroke winning margin established by [Cary] Middlecoff in 1955.

I believe it was approximately 10 minutes from the time the telecast began on Saturday until a scoreboard was shown to the viewers which gave them an accurate picture as to how matters stood and this of course is something we have discussed in the past as being of paramount importance at an early period in each show. …

I was informed after the show ended on Saturday that CBS had taken the precaution to tape Palmer’s play of the last four holes. (This precaution had first been suggested, several years before, by Roberts himself.) That being the case, it seems a pity that the producer or director failed to run off early on Saturday his playing of the last three or four holes. It would have been necessary, of course, to first explain Palmer’s domination of the tournament and the records he had an opportunity to match or to break. It was approximately 38 minutes after the start of the program that [Chris] Schenkel said something about a tape of Palmer in action. Palmer was then shown at Hole No. 16 only, but the viewers must have been confused because Palmer’s action at No. 16 was interrupted after he had hit his tee shot in order to show something live on another green. About four minutes afterward, the camera went back to the 16th Green to show Palmer holing his putt.”

Roberts’s ideas about how to put together an interesting broadcast in the absence of a leader seem self-evident to a modern viewer of televised golf tournaments. At the time, though, they made CBS executives grind their teeth. A few years earlier, CBS had even declined Roberts’s offer to supply the network’s announcers with historical lore about past tournaments so that they might have something interesting to talk about during just such situations.

Despite various disagreements with CBS over the years, Roberts had reasons for wanting to maintain the club’s broadcast agreement with that network. One was that, despite his reputation for being hard to work with, he believed in continuing relationships. He liked to use the same lawyers, bankers, photographers, doctors, suppliers, and contractors year after year, and he usually made changes only with reluctance. (The club has used the same bank since the thirties. Roberts felt that clever lawyers could always find ways to wiggle out of contracts, and that business relationships therefore needed to be founded on more than pieces of paper.) The main reason for his commitment to CBS, though, was that CBS had more affiliates, more viewers, and higher ratings than either of the other two networks. Roberts was skeptical of television ratings, which he felt were close to fictional, but he studied them and brooded about them, and he was determined that the Masters should earn higher ratings than any other tournament.

Roberts also felt that remaining with CBS helped to maintain a balance of power among golf broadcasters. He explained his thinking in a letter to one of the club’s lawyers in 1972. “I like ever so much the people who run the Sports Department of ABC,” he wrote, ”but I do not see how we can move over in that direction. They have all of the top tournaments excepting the Masters and to my way of thinking we would not be rendering any service to the game of golf if we also joined ABC.” NBC, too, had made offers, but Roberts felt that “the talent they employ does not seem to be capable of staging a good telecast of a golf tournament.”

The closest Roberts came to being tempted away from CBS came in the early sixties, and it involved the issue of broadcasting in color. Augusta National wanted the Masters to be shown in color, and CBS did not want to make the change. The club had begun pushing for color in the early sixties without success, and in a letter in 1964 Roberts called color the club’s “most difficult problem” with the network. Jones suggested, the same year, that the club might be able to circumvent CBS by showing the tournament on closed-circuit television in movie theaters, as was sometimes done with boxing matches. Roberts looked into the idea, but eventually rejected it. “I cannot visualize golf fans buying a five dollar ticket in order to spend an afternoon in a theater to watch the Masters Tournament or any other tournament,” he wrote to Jones. “They do it in connection with a world championship fight, about which there is always great excitement, but I question if golf fans will ever get excited to that extent about a golf tournament.”

In resisting color, CBS argued (among other things) that the number of cameras it used on the course would have to be cut back, and that the number of holes shown on the broadcast would therefore have to be reduced. As the club discovered, that claim was disingenuous. While it was true that CBS could handle only a limited number of color cameras with the two remote broadcast units that it used at that time, the problem could be solved by adding a third unit, a change that would have a cost but would be relatively easy. The club also felt that CBS had overstated the probable expense of switching to color.

That CBS put up a fight over color was in many ways surprising, because in 1939 the network had developed the world’s first color television system. That system was based on a camera in which a wheel containing red, blue, and green filters was spun at high speed before the lens. In 1950, the Federal Communications Commission, after lengthy hearings, chose CBS’s system as the national color television standard. In doing so it rejected a competing system that had been developed by RCA, which owned NBC. The RCA system—which used three separate tubes—had the advantage of producing images that looked good on black-and-white sets, while CBS’s system did not. But the FCC believed that the RCA system was unreliable, and CBS carried the day.

The victory was short-lived. CBS made a few attempts to broadcast in color, but its system didn’t catch on. Then RCA found ways to improve and simplify its own system. Late in 1953, the FCC reversed itself and approved the new RCA standard—which is in use to this day—and real color broadcasting began. NBC moved aggressively, investing in new equipment and marketing itself as the color network. (Hence the origin of the network’s use of a peacock as its logo.) It had an extra incentive to do so, since the rise of color programming increased demand for color TV sets manufactured by the network’s corporate parent, RCA. Still, the transition was slow. The number of color sets in use in the United States did not reach a million until 1962.

CBS, which had been stung by its early foray into color, held back. The network’s hesitancy did not immediately appear shortsighted, because for a time color seemed as though it might not catch on at all. By the early sixties, however, the club believed that CBS was lagging. The program’s sponsors encouraged Roberts to push for color, and one of them warned him that the broadcast would come to be viewed as “second rate” if the change were not made soon. In January of 1964, William Kerr, who was the chairman of Augusta National’s television committee, wrote to MacPhail, “I am deeply concerned that if we continue to stand still on this score it will be detrimental to the best interests of the Tournament, the sponsors, and CBS.” Roberts asked the director of the club’s tournament films to send copies to CBS, to show the network “what this place looks like in color during the Tournament.” (CBS had been offered the opportunity to produce the films but had turned it down.)

At around the same time, CBS was coming under similar pressure from another major event on its schedule, the Miss America Pageant. The pageant’s owners wanted a color broadcast, and they asked CBS, which had carried the program for years, to submit a proposal. CBS’s cost estimate was so high that pageant officials decided the network was trying to make the pageant’s sponsors bear most of the cost of upgrading the entire CBS system. Largely as a result, they moved the program to NBC—a great blow to CBS, since the pageant broadcast had become the top-rated special program in history, with ratings nearly as high as those of the two episodes of the Ed Sullivan Show on which the Beatles appeared in 1964.

Unhappiness over the color issue contributed to a decision by the club to demand a renegotiation of its current contract with CBS. Roberts felt that the network had been unresponsive to the club’s requests on that and other matters, and he was bothered by the fact that the existing contract gave CBS the right of first negotiation and first refusal on any new agreement. The club’s side of the bargaining was handled by a young New York attorney named J. Richard Ryan, who had represented the Miss America Pageant in its own fight with the network (and who still represents the club in its television dealings). Ryan told Roberts that the club could turn the first-negotiation clause to its own advantage, by presenting CBS with a “wish list” of demands and making it clear that the club was willing to change networks if CBS didn’t accede. The most important provision of the new agreement was probably one that limited the network to just two minutes of commercials per half hour and prohibited “chain breaks,” which were brief commercials sold by local stations.

CBS executives were appalled by the advertising provisions, which they viewed as naive. But Roberts believed that commercials were not only less intrusive but also more effective if they were used sparingly. (Roberts also felt that sixty-second commercials, the standard at the time, were too long—a view that advertisers and television networks later came to believe themselves.) He wasn’t opposed to advertising; indeed, the club and not CBS had been the source of all the broadcast’s sponsors. Augusta National’s earliest television contracts had called for CBS to pay the club a fee of $10,000 if it carried the broadcast on a “sustaining” basis—that is, without a commercial sponsor—and $40,000 if an acceptable advertiser could be found. CBS had failed to find a sponsor for either of the first two broadcasts—a fact that may seem astonishing to a modern viewer but was not necessarily unusual at the time. In 1958, the club stepped in and provided a sponsor of its own: American Express, which remained with the broadcast until 1962. Travelers became a sponsor in 1959. Cluett, Peabody & Co., the manufacturer of Arrow shirts, replaced American Express in 1962, and was in turn replaced by Cadillac in 1969. (Not coincidentally, American Express, Travelers, Cluett, Peabody, and General Motors—as well as Young & Rubicam, the advertising agency that represented the early sponsors—were all run by club members.) Roberts had first suggested Cadillac as a sponsor in 1958, but CBS had rejected the idea. “Television is a mass medium,” a network executive responded dismissively, “and Cadillacs are not merchandised to the masses—even though it appears that way in some parts of the country.” Today, of course, Cadillac is one of the leading sponsors of televised golf—and sponsored the Masters broadcast for more than thirty years.

Mechanical Progress golf carts
State-of-the-art cameras at The Masters in 1965. Photo: Leonard Kamsler

Roberts felt that the best commercials were ones that fit in with the tournament as seamlessly as possible. He especially liked ones that had golf themes, if not Masters themes, and he encouraged advertisers to take advantage of the club as a shooting location. The Arrow commercials, for example, were shot on the course itself shortly before the tournament began. One—a laughably sexist tableau featuring two attractive young models wearing Arrow’s “Mr. Golf” and “Miss Golf” shirts, which cost five dollars and were made of a cotton-and-Dacron blend called Decton—was filmed on the practice putting green; another featured two couples enjoying a friendly match at Amen Corner. In 1964, one Arrow commercial showed a Decton-clad young man enjoying a beverage behind the clubhouse and then hitting a ball with a Masters logo on it.

Despite CBS’s objections, the club refused to back down on the commercial issue. Roberts knew that the Miss America Pageant had won a similar concession, and he made it clear that he, too, was prepared to change networks in order to get what he wanted. CBS had to give in. The restriction became a part of the signed agreement, and it has been a part of every one of the club’s television contracts since that time. The minimal number of commercials during a Masters broadcast is even more striking today than it was then. In the early sixties, the standard allocation for advertisements in a two-and-a-half-hour program was eighteen minutes; today, programs sometimes cram nearly that much advertising into a single hour.

Although the terms of the proposed contract were tough, Roberts’s aim was not to harm or humiliate CBS but rather to guarantee that the Masters would receive the sort of television treatment he felt it deserved. Most of the key provisions actually worked to the ultimate benefit of the network. With fewer commercials to work into the broadcast, for example, the program’s directors had a broader canvas on which to work and were in far less danger of cutting away from important action—a major peril in the days before instant replays. Even the insistence on color probably helped CBS, by forcing the network to take a necessary step somewhat earlier than it would have done on its own.

The principal announcer on the first Masters broadcasts was Jim McKay. He was joined several years later by Chris Schenkel, who was probably Roberts’s favorite Masters announcer ever. McKay left CBS for ABC shortly after the tournament in 1961, and Schenkel followed him three years later. In 1965, Jack Whitaker, who had first worked on the broadcast in 1963, took Schenkel’s place, and served as the head commentator for two years.

Whitaker is the subject of one of the most frequently repeated (and embroidered) stories about Roberts. Peter Dobereiner wrote one version: “One well-known broadcaster once referred to a group of excited spectators as ‘that mob,’ and he was banished from Augusta for 15 years.” Melvin Durslag, writing in TV Guide in 1971, presented a slightly different version: “The committee chairman of the Masters, it seemed, was most distressed that Whitaker would be so indiscreet as to call the Masters gallery a ‘mob.’ He demanded that Jack be given the foot. Grudgingly, CBS acceded.” Henry Longhurst’s version, published in 1976, was more elaborate—and contained dialogue: “[Roberts] once sent off the field, so to speak, a most distinguished and respected television commentator for exclaiming in the excitement of the moment: ‘There goes the mob, running after Palmer!’ Unfortunately, Mr. Roberts was tuned in. ‘We do not have mobs at the Masters,’ he said. ‘And they do not run. Kindly leave the grounds.'” Many other versions of the same story exist.

In whatever version, the story is usually presented as evidence that Roberts possessed a hair-trigger temper and that no announcer—or, for that matter, anyone else—was ever safe in his presence. But the facts were different. The conversation recounted by Longhurst never took place. Whitaker was never told to “leave the grounds.” The replacement of Whitaker on the broadcast, by Pat Summerall in 1968, was not the result of anyone’s use of the word “mob.” And Whitaker’s absence from the Masters broadcast did not last fifteen years; in fact, when Longhurst wrote his story, in 1976, Whitaker had been back on camera at the Masters for four years.

It is true that Roberts did not like the word “mob.” During the 1960 broadcast, Jim McKay and Jim McArthur used it four or five times between them on Sunday alone. Roberts noticed, and in a letter written a few weeks later he let McKay know that he disapproved—but he was far from apoplectic. Roberts began his letter by calling the 1960 broadcast “the best ever.” He wrote, “The speed and the timing of the switches from one scene of action to another on Saturday was easily the best work that has ever been done in connection with a golf tournament. In the main, the comments [by the announcers] were quite good and, from my point of view, they were especially good because they were not overdone. I think too much chatty conversation by a commentator as a part of a golf tournament show is about the worst thing of all. The main thing the golfing fan wants is understandable and accurate information and you and the others come closer to doing a perfect job in this connection at the Masters Tournament than I have observed in any other television golf show. There are a few minor things, however, that I would like to bring to your attention and I have no hesitancy in doing so because I know you are always wide open to an opportunity to make improvements …. “

One of the “few minor things” Roberts wished to address was the use of the word “mob.” He wrote, “I think this is an uncomplimentary way to describe the large groups at the Masters. Aside from being in bad taste, it tends to discourage television viewers from ever attending the Masters. I think a more complimentary way to describe the sizable concentrations of spectators would be to refer to them as the ‘large crowds’ or the ‘great numbers in attendance’ or the ‘wonderful tournament crowds at Augusta.’ In other words, most anything would be better than the word ‘mob’ which denotes uncontrolled numbers or disorderly, unlawful groups.” Roberts concluded his critique by inviting McKay to lunch.

When Whitaker joined the broadcast in 1963, his role was minor. In the request for credentials that CBS submitted to the club that year, he was listed not with the broadcast team but on a separate page devoted to sponsors, advertising agency representatives, actors, and commercial announcers. His contribution to the broadcast that year was limited to doing prerecorded introductions for Travelers commercials. The following year, 1964, he was stationed on the seventeenth hole, although he was given virtually no airtime on Sunday.

When Chris Schenkel left CBS for ABC in 1964, Whitaker was tapped by CBS to take his place as the lead announcer for 1965. Roberts liked the 1965 broadcast a great deal—in a memorandum to CBS he said that the program on Sunday had been “quite a substantial improvement over anything done in the past”—but he was disappointed by Whitaker. He felt that Whitaker was insufficiently conversant with the game, the course, the history of the tournament, and the eighteenth hole, coverage of which was his principal responsibility. (He also noted that Whitaker might have once used the word “mob” to describe the crowd at the eighteenth, but he said he wasn’t sure, and his observation was listed as a “minor criticism.”) Roberts concluded, “There is room, and in fact, a great need for an outstanding individual who can sense the highlights that need to be emphasized and to bring them out in a clearcut fashion at the proper time.”

Roberts did not believe that Whitaker had no place on the broadcast; he simply felt that Whitaker was not knowledgeable enough to be the centerpiece of the program. When CBS submitted its list of announcers for the following year’s broadcast, Whitaker’s name was on the list and Roberts approved the lineup. The club’s television committee (with Roberts’s consent) suggested that Henry Longhurst, who was also on the list, might be used as the broadcast’s “command hand” at the eighteenth green, a move that would have made it possible to place Whitaker at a different hole. Frank Chirkinian, who produced and directed the broadcast, rejected that idea on the grounds that Longhurst was “not prolific in the ways of a professional broadcaster upon whom we rely for duties other than just golf announcing,” and said that Whitaker would again have that role. Chirkinian indicated, though, that Whitaker would be made part of “a broader dramatic structure”—a change that was meant at least in part to address the club’s criticisms of his performance.

The 1966 Masters was the first to be broadcast in color, and the club was delighted with the results. Roberts’s critique of the broadcast began, “We have heard and read more complimentary remarks than in any previous year. Some have said it was the best outdoor color show of a sports event ever done and we do not quarrel with that sort of appraisal …. We also wish to recognize the ability and willingness of CBS to make available an extra 63 minutes of time on Monday for the [eighteen-hole] play-off. The pictures were as usual exceptionally clear, the coverage extensive and the shifting from one scene to another was expertly handled.” He felt that the Saturday broadcast had been ragged, but that the program on Sunday had been “splendid.” As had been true the previous year, his only lengthy and sustained criticisms were of Whitaker, who he said had done “a poor job” as head announcer and to whom he devoted a full page in his critique. In particular, he chastised Whitaker for repeatedly referring to the club as the ”Augusta National Golf Course,” for grossly exaggerating (at fifteen thousand) the size of the crowd around the eighteenth green, for discussing prize money (a forbidden subject in the view of both Roberts and Jones, and an issue that was covered explicitly in the contract with CBS), and for misleading viewers about how soon the players would reach the fourteenth hole—the first hole with a camera—during coverage of the eighteen-hole playoff on Monday. (The players didn’t reach that hole until nearly an hour into the broadcast; Roberts felt that Whitaker had suggested they would be along almost immediately—as he had, although his intention was undoubtedly to keep viewers from tuning out.)

Jack Nicklaus, Tommy Jacobs, and Gay Brewer, Jr., had tied after seventy-two holes. During the playoff—which Nicklaus won, making him the first player to win the Masters two years in a row—they played excruciatingly slowly. The entire round took more than five hours, an unheard-of pace at a time when the average Masters round lasted three or three and a half hours. Roberts and other members of the club had been upset because they felt that CBS, despite having had ample warning that the players were crawling over the course, not only hadn’t prepared material to fill the first part of the broadcast but also didn’t seem to have a coherent approach to covering the final holes. There were many gaps and odd juxtapositions, and for almost twenty minutes the picture on the screen was mainly of the backs of spectators near the thirteenth and fourteenth holes. Gerry Achenbach, who was one of a group of about forty members who reviewed that year’s broadcast, wrote in a memo to Roberts, “I had the distinct feeling that there were moments when those directing the show were near the panic stage in groping for something to do.”

Roberts concluded, “We question whether Whitaker has any important interest in golf. We do not doubt his ability in other fields and he is an agreeable person. We continue to believe however that he does not possess the ability to do the kind of job as head announcer that the event requires.” In Preferred Lies and Other Tales, a memoir published in 1998, Whitaker wrote that in March 1967 he was told by Jack Dolph, the network’s director of sports, that Whitaker would not be part of the broadcast crew at that year’s Masters. “You called the gallery a mob and didn’t mention there would be a green coat ceremony on the putting green after the players checked their cards,” Whitaker says Dolph told him. Whitaker’s failure to mention the ceremony had indeed been cited in Roberts’s 1966 critique; the word “mob” had not. It is not clear now whether Roberts had directly asked that Whitaker be removed from the broadcast team or whether MacPhail or someone else at CBS had decided to reassign him in the expectation that doing so would make Roberts happy. The latter possibility seems more likely. William Paley had made it clear to MacPhail that keeping the Masters broadcast at CBS was absolutely essential, and MacPhail was consequently terrified of doing anything that might make Roberts angry.

It is entirely possible to argue that Roberts’s low opinion of Whitaker in the mid-sixties was mistaken, unreasonable, or both. But Whitaker’s removal from the broadcast was not the result of a moment of anger on Roberts’s part, and it did not occur because Whitaker had called the tournament’s gallery a “mob.” As it turned out, when the tournament took place a few weeks later, Whitaker wasn’t the only broadcaster who was missing from the program: The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists had gone on strike, and that meant that CBS’s usual commentators, who were members of that union, could not participate. Roberts conducted auditions among the club’s membership and settle on two distinguished amateur players, Charles Coe and Billy Joe Patton, to fill two of the vacant spots. Coe had won the U.S. Amateur twice and been the runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in 1959, and in the 1961 Masters he had finished tied for second with Palmer. Patton had led the Masters after two rounds in 1954, then ended up in third place behind Snead and Hogan. Both men had played the course for years.

Coe and Patton did creditable jobs as commentators, and their minimal dialogue confirmed Roberts’s belief that less is more in golf broadcasting. CBS was pleased as well, and MacPhail passed along a sampling of the large volume of complimentary mail the network had received. One viewer wrote, “[T]he quiet, sincere comments of your members, which were entirely adequate, were a refreshing change from the glib, and sometimes overly talkative, ‘pros’ we usually hear.” Another wrote, “What an absolute pleasure it was to watch a player, under severe pressure, walk up to a putt in silence—the silence any gallery always accords a player, but which the announcers feel impelled to fill with chatter. In this case, one truly felt present, with a real sense of actual participation.” The broadcast turned out so well, in fact, that CBS executives credited it with breaking the strike.

Whitaker returned to the program in 1973. He happened to be attending the tournament as a guest of CBS, and was drafted at the last minute by Chirkinian to fill in at the sixteenth hole in place of Henry Longhurst, who had suddenly become ill. Chirkinian took Whitaker to Roberts’s office to seek official approval for the change. Whitaker recalls that Roberts greeted him warmly and said, “Young man, we are very fortunate that you are here.” Whitaker remained a part of the Masters broadcast team until he left CBS for ABC in 1981. But he never again served as the head announcer.

The man who ran CBS’s Masters broadcasts from 1959 until 1996 was Frank Chirkinian, a profanity-spewing, chain-smoking, self-promoting vortex of ego, anxiety, and nervous energy who is widely and fairly credited with being one of the pioneering geniuses of televised sports. Roberts and Chirkinian were like matter and antimatter. Roberts affected to be unable to pronounce Chirkinian’s name—”It’s spelled T-A-L-E-N-T,” the producer once explained to someone else—and Chirkinian cursed Roberts with unquotable ferocity. One of the low points in their relationship came in 1966, when Sports Illustrated published a behind-the-scenes account, written by Dan Jenkins, of that year’s Masters broadcast (the first one in color). Roberts felt that Jenkins had portrayed Chirkinian as the virtual inventor of the Masters, and that he himself had been depicted as an interfering fool. Chirkinian, for his part, had clearly used Jenkins’s story as a means of getting back at Roberts, who had annoyed him for years.

The incompatibility of the two men’s characters probably prevented either from fully appreciating the merits of the other—although Roberts consistently praised the program, and Chirkinian adopted what he perceived to be Roberts’s management style. (His colleagues at CBS later called him the Ayatollah-a nickname that he says he was given by Pat Summerall.) Both were extraordinarily driven individuals for whom the Masters was a personal obsession. The friction between them led to tense moments, but it also contributed to the sustained strength of the broadcast. Each man kept the other on his toes.

It is probable that Roberts never truly grasped the difficulty of Chirkinian’s job—or the degree to which the director’s blustering ego was a tool he used to get it done. Chirkinian had to create a narrative from the jumble of images on a bank of television monitors, while supervising a sometimes unruly and unreliable crew of commentators. The plot of the narrative could change from moment to moment, as one leader displaced another, stars dawdled over putts, caddies stepped between cameras and players, and shots that seemed crucial turned out to mean nothing. Roberts sometimes held up the club’s tournament films as examples of what he felt the broadcast ought to be, but covering a golf tournament live and making a movie about one after the fact are different disciplines. The director of the films had the huge advantage of being able to work backward from the ending. Chirkinian could only react.

It is equally likely that Chirkinian undervalued Roberts’s contributions to the broadcast and his frequently astute and even visionary sense of what worked and did not work on television. Chirkinian and his colleagues dismissed Roberts and other club members as meddlesome old men who didn’t have enough sense to stay out of the way. When a “green jacket” appeared in the doorway of the CBS broadcast trailer, Chirkinian’s blood pressure spiked. But many of the innovations for which Chirkinian’s career is celebrated were in fact suggested by Roberts or other members of the club. Roberts was focused on the tournament twelve months a year, and he knew it inside out; it is not surprising that he was able to make valuable suggestions, no matter how much Chirkinian disliked the feeling that he himself was not completely in control. Moments of animosity between the club and the network sometimes obscured the fact that both partners gained much from the relationship.

Chirkinian was especially annoyed by numerous restrictions—some of them contractual—that the club expected the commentators to adhere to. There was to be no promotion of other CBS programs, no estimate of the size of the crowd, no reference to “sand traps” (the preferred term was “bunkers”). The most important restrictions, from the point of view of Roberts and Jones, were the ones that had to do with anything that might be perceived as an attempt to commercialize the tournament. There was to be no mention of prize money, for example. Roberts wanted the Masters purse to be one of the most generous in golf—and he pioneered the practice of paying players who missed the cut—but he believed that publicly focusing on money cheapened the competition. Most Masters fans don’t even know how much the winner earns; that’s exactly how Roberts and Jones would have wanted it. (In 1998, first prize was $576,000, and the total purse was $3,199,480. Each player who missed the cut received exactly as much as the total purse during the first nine tournaments: $5,000.)

Not all of the Masters broadcast rules were handed down by Roberts. In fact, most of the ones that had to do with word choice originated with Jones. It was he, for example, who insisted that sand-filled hazards be referred to as bunkers rather than traps. He explained his preference in Golf Is My Game: “Throughout this and all my other writings on the game, I have used the word ‘bunker’ in what I have understood to be the traditional golfing sense, meaning a pit in which the soil has been exposed and the area covered with sand. I regard the term ‘sand trap’ as an unacceptable Americanization. Its use annoys me almost as much as hearing a golf club called a ‘stick.'” Jones was equally particular about references to the two halves of the course. He wanted them to be called “the first nine” and “the second nine.” He disapproved of “front” and “back,” partly because the terms were not, strictly speaking, accurate, and partly because they created the possibility of referring to the second nine as the “back side”—a phrase he viewed as a vulgarism and a synonym for “rear end.” Jones also originated the club’s now well-established practice of not releasing attendance figures for the tournament; he believed that allowing reporters and others to overestimate the size of crowds, as they inevitably did, was a shrewd marketing tactic at a time when the tournament’s fiscal health depended almost entirely on ticket sales. (Shortly after the Masters in 1952, Roberts wrote to Jones, “If you count the employees, caddies, etc., there were more than 14,000 people on the grounds the last day of the Tournament. I am still sticking to the policy you prescribed of never giving out figures in connection with the Masters Tournament and I have asked everyone else to refrain from doing so. Sometimes I wonder if we will continuously be able to get away with this policy because the curiosity and interest become more intense each year. The pressure on me, particularly, is sometimes rather severe but I am still willing to keep mum on the subject so long as you think, from a public relations point of view, that it is wise for us to do so.”)

The club’s strictness regarding terminology had a positive effect on broadcasters. Cliches are unavoidable in live television—no one has the poise to be continually original for hours on the air—but precision is a worthy goal. Roberts was right to suggest, as he did in 1960, that Jim McKay should speak of “mounds” instead of “humps” in describing the terrain on certain holes, because “mounds” was the word more commonly used by knowledgeable players. The announcers undercut their authority, Roberts believed, when they used odd terms, misidentified holes, made absurdly precise estimates of the length of long putts (“Palmer is one hundred and twelve feet from the hole”), described pin positions from their own perspective rather than that of the players (as both Whitaker and Longhurst were prone to do), mispronounced the names of contestants, garbled the name of the club, gave the wrong number for the par of the course, or in other ways suggested to discerning viewers that they did not know what they were talking about. “On Sunday the announcer first said Palmer’s drive was 260, then it was changed to 280 and a moment later it was described as being 300 yards,” Roberts wrote to CBS in 1962. “If you want to announce the length of drives, we can readily put [in] some distance markers for you.” Roberts also encouraged the announcers to putt balls on the greens before the broadcasts began, so that they could comment more accurately on the direction in which contestants’ putts were likely to break. Chirkinian hated to receive those memos, but their overall effect on the program was decidedly positive.

Roberts was feared at CBS not because he made unreasonable demands but because the currency of his deal-making was not money. He wanted results, not fees. Under the 1965 contract, CBS paid Augusta National just $125,000 for the right to broadcast the tournament—perhaps a third of what the club would have received in an auction with all three networks. “It’s our feeling that the practice of a little moderation at this time is desirable,” Roberts wrote that year in a letter to Hord Hardin, who was an official of the U.S.G.A. (and who in 1980 would become Augusta National’s third chairman, a position he would hold until 1991). Roberts told Hardin that the U.S.G.A. should use its considerable bargaining power not to bring in more cash but to put more of its tournaments on TV. “I am completely certain in my own mind that a great many people might prefer for a change to see the amateurs in action on TV,” Roberts wrote. “Moreover, the Women’s Open would be appealing to a considerable number of people. There is no reason on earth why the [male] professionals alone should be permitted to monopolize the television screen.” If Augusta National, the U.S.G.A., and other tournament sponsors insisted on extracting every dollar they could, Roberts argued, the time devoted to commercials would have to increase to cover the networks’ inflated costs. With less of every broadcast hour devoted to golf, viewers would lose interest in all but the biggest tournaments, and events with smaller audiences would disappear. The proper way to think of television, Roberts believed, was as a long-term investment rather than a short-term bonanza.