Frank Chirkinian, the legendary producer for CBS Sports and primary force behind the Masters tournament, succumbed to lung cancer at his home in North Palm Beach, Florida, on March 4, 2011. He was 84.
Born in 1926 to Armenian immigrants and raised in Philadelphia, Chirkinian attended the University of Pennsylvania, but left in 1950 to work as an assistant director at CBS affiliate WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. He was hired by the network full-time in 1958 after covering the PGA Championships in Havertown, Pennsylvania, and is considered the father of televised golf for his work on 38 Masters from 1959 through 1996. Chirkinian also directed coverage of the Winter Olympics, the United States Open tennis tournament, college and professional football, auto racing, and thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown for CBS Sports, but it was his work in golf that made the largest impact. Notable golf related events over the course of his career included the duels between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the 1960s and 1970s, and Nicklaus’s back-nine charge to win the 1986 Masters.
The four-time Emmy and two-time Peabody winning Chirkinian set the standard for golf coverage via multiple cameras, microphones on tees, roving reporters on the grounds, and an updated aggregated scoring system that listed a player's score relative to par instead of their total strokes for the tournament. He also invented the communication devices that every announcer now wears in his ear and pioneered the use of cameras on blimps, trees and cranes.
Nicknamed “The Ayatollah” for his perfectionist, no-nonsense approach, Chirkinian was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame just one month before his death and was honored posthumously as a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame in May.
"In his 38 years with CBS Sports, Frank Chirkinian's remarkable innovations and contributions have become the industry standard for the way we watch golf on television,” said Sean McManus, Chairman, CBS Sports. “Frank has left a legacy of excellence and creativity in golf broadcasting that will never be equaled and is a true Hall of Famer in all of sports television."
"Frank Chirkinian was a true pioneer," added Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports. "There certainly would not have been a golf television business without him. And golf may never have developed into such a robust business without the way he connected the game on the course to the viewer at home. He will be sorely missed but the game is better forever because of him."
He is survived by his wife and son.