When the PGA Tour's traveling circus pulls into town, the spotlight invariably falls on the performers, with their outlandish skills and miraculous deeds. Scant attention is paid to the little people behind the scenes, tugging at the ropes and levers. Even in death the stars of the show remain transcendent. Payne Stewart's memorial was carried live on the Golf Channel, and the world wept Last week the golf community suffered another tragedy. It did not attract much news coverage, but the loss was still deeply felt.
Brian Blodgett, 37, was one of the best TV cameramen in the business, a freelancer who had his pick of choice assignments. One of his favorites was Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, which allowed him to indulge his passion for travel. Since the show was reinvented in 1994, Blodgett hadn't missed any of the 42 tapings, including ports of call in Africa, Japan and the Canary Islands among other far-flung destinations. On Sept. 3, a wonderful, cloudless day in Carmel Valley, Calif., Blodgett was working his 43rd Shell game, between Mark Calcavecchia and Fred Couples, on a pastoral new course called the Preserve. As play concluded on the 2nd hole, a forklift being used as a camera tower toppled. Blodgett plummeted 25 feet to the ground. He was pronounced dead on the scene. (Another member of the crew, Jim Hancock, suffered head injuries; he was treated at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and released later the same day.)
Blodgett's death was jarring because in the golf world he was celebrated for the gusto with which he lived. Says Terry Jastrow, a former Wonderful World of Golf producer, "Since the beginning of sports television the tech people have spanned the globe to bring images into American living rooms, and the cameramen, for whatever reason, have always tended to be colorful characters, full of spirit and personality. Brian was the model for that type of guy."
Blodgett was a pleasant contradiction—unfailingly polite and professional on the job, yet off the course he had such an out-sized presence his nickname was Big 'Un. An enthusiastic scuba diver and sportfisherman, Blodgett was also an accomplished magician who loved to entertain, his gallery invariably perched atop barstools, drinking in his laughter. A favorite audience was Jack Nicklaus, a frequent Wonderful World of Golf competitor whose television production company used to produce the show. "Everybody knows that Jack doesn't suffer fools, which is why we always put Brian on him," says Jastrow. "Jack used to have a little more of a twinkle whenever he saw Brian out on the golf course."
Golf is populated by migrant workers with odd subspecialties. Every week hundreds of people are employed to set up corporate tents, build scoreboards or follow the (light of a little while ball against a bright blue sky with a high-tech camera. These bands of gypsies work together and live together, and the bonds can be tight. "On the road you look out for each other," says John DelVecchio, a Wonderful World of Golf director. "Brian was like a brother. I probably knew more about him than I do about half of my family."
After a lifetime of wanderlust, Blodgett had only recently established his own family ties, having married his wife, Kelly, last March. They shared a hometown, Jacksonville, and with his technical wizardry Brian had rigged their house with remote-controlled lights, window shades and door locks, and a fancy television that descended from the ceiling in the den.
TV golf will endure even without Blodgett's contributions. The Calcavecchia-Couples match, immediately canceled in the wake of the accident, will be rescheduled in the coming weeks. The show must go on, even for the unsung masses behind the scenes grieving for a fallen colleague. Says DelVecchio, his voice hoarse with emotion, "It was just a made-for-TV golf exhibition. No one was supposed to die."