During his career, he produced golf, college and pro football, the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and several thoroughbred Triple Crown events. It was during one of his college football broadcasts that he dreamed up the idea of putting a camera in the blimp flying overhead.
These ideas seem so simple to today’s viewers. At the time they were revolutionary. It is no wonder that he collected five Emmys and two Peabodys during his career.
It is with CBS and the Masters that Chirkinian is most closely associated, for good reason. His broadcasts in the 1960s featured a blossoming star named Arnold Palmer. Chirkinian was able to perfectly capture Palmer’s heroics on the course and America fell in love. The union of the Masters, Palmer and television ushered in a golden age in golf. Chirkinian was in the middle of it all, barking out orders.
“The convergence of television, Arnold Palmer and The Masters in the late 1950s and early ’60s sparked growth across every golf metric,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem. “Frank’s vision for presenting the game on television made a huge impact on that trajectory.”
Chirkinian is responsible for so many iconic Masters images, from Palmer to Tom Watson to Jack Nicklaus raising his putter in triumph in 1986. He also played a role in developing so many of golf’s great voices, including Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker, Jim Nantz and Gary McCord.
Through force of will, Chirkinian – who was dubbed “The Ayatollah” by Summerall in the 1970s – demanded that everyone in his presence respect the game and let the drama play out.
One paragraph from his New York Times obituary wonderfully sums up Chirkinian: “When Brent Musburger broadcast the Masters for the first time, Mr. Chirkinian feared that Mr. Musburger’s enthusiasm might overwhelm the stately aura of the course. As he related it to The New York Times, he told Mr. Musburger,’I’ll kill you if you raise your voice one-half a decibel.”