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There's a precious brouhaha afoot on the fairways and greens that is putting a little spice into the new TV golf season. The commotion is not among the golfers, who would benefit by stirring up a little attention, but among the networks. The air has been filled with statements, counterstatements and so many interpretations of golf ratings that the situation conjures up the Benjamin Disraeli line, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
Some of the arguments:
?Golf is in trouble on television vs. golf is in no more trouble than any other sport in the eyes of sponsors.
?Golf ratings are down vs. golf ratings are not down vs. they are not down by any more than other sports.
The first shot was fired by ABC director Terry Jastrow last summer . when he bemoaned the state of golf on television. Jastrow, 31, a former college golfer at Houston, directs ABC's U.S. Open telecasts; he also is trying to carve out a career as an actor. "Golf on TV, if it is done as poorly as it is now being done by the other networks, can seriously damage the game," Jastrow said. "Our skirts aren't clean at ABC, but CBS hasn't essentially changed its static approach in 15 years, and NBC is just third-rate in all respects."
Those comments were particularly galling to the people at CBS, where Frank Chirkinian, 53, has been the majordomo of golf production for more than two decades. Said Jastrow, "Chirkinian is as good as anyone if the event is good and close, with key players in contention. My problem with his coverage is that if the event is not close, no effort is made to present it any other way. If the game is boring, CBS will show it boring." ABC, he said, tries to liven up a dull tournament by doing interviews with players, caddies, wives and kids—what the network calls, in the immortal phrase coined by Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, "up close and personal."
Chirkinian responded, "The guys who want to run sidebars want to subjugate the event to their own egos. How do you humanize a player in 40 seconds? At CBS we report the event first and then make it entertaining. Remember, simplicity in itself is an art."
NBC Executive Producer Don Ohlmeyer identified Chirkinian as the best director doing golf and said, "I find repugnant the sheer egotism that would allow Jastrow to set himself up as the determining factor for what is good and bad in coverage. Maybe they should set up a course at the New School with Jastrow lecturing on how to televise golf; I would take it if the tuition wasn't more than $2."
The debate over how TV coverage should be handled has now expanded to encompass broader concerns about the sport and TV. On top of a dip in the composite golf ratings on all three networks from 7.4 in 1975 to 5.4 in 1979, there was an ominous development last October: the decision by Chevrolet to cut its involvement, to the tune of some $12 million, as a major sponsor of the PGA on CBS.