Masters Countdown: Why So Few Commercials?

Augusta National’s proposed 1966 broadcast contract with CBS required both that the tournament be shown in color and that commercials be limited to two minutes per half hour. CBS executives were appalled by the advertising provisions, which they viewed as naïve. But Clifford Roberts, the club’s chairman, believed that commercials were not only less intrusive but 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.)

Roberts wasn’t opposed to advertising. Indeed, the club and not CBS had been the source of all the broadcast’s sponsors during the decade the tournament had been on the air. 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 1956 or 1957—a fact that may seem astonishing to a modern viewer but was not necessarily unusual at the time—so the first two broadcasts were commercial-free.

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.”

Roberts felt that the best commercials were ones that fit in with the tournament as seamlessly as possible. He especially like 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 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 was prepared to change networks in order to get what he wanted, as the pageant had. CBS had to give in. The restriction became a part of the signed agreement, and a similar one 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, 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.

Masters Countdown: How Augusta National Persuaded CBS to Broadcast the Tournament in Color

The first live nationwide broadcast of a golf tournament took place in 1954, when NBC provided limited coverage of the U. S. Open, at Baltusrol, beginning at the seventeenth green. NBC owned the broadcast rights to the Masters as well, and Clifford Roberts, who was Augusta National’s co-founder and chairman, wanted his tournament to be carried on television, too.

NBC, however, was not 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 a new 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 beat Ken Venturi by a single stroke.

CBS has carried the tournament ever since, although Augusta National renegotiates the every year. The closest Roberts ever came to moving the tournament to a different network occurred 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 CBS, in 1939, 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, 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 peacock 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 short-sighted, 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 William MacPhail, who was the director of sports at CBS, “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.” Since 1960, the club had commissioned a movie of each tournament, mainly because Roberts wanted to create a permanent visual record of the Masters. (CBS had been offered the opportunity to produce the films for the club but had turned it down.) In 1964, he asked the director of the films to send copies to CBS, to show the network “what this place looks like in color during the Tournament.”

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 led Augusta National to demand a renegotiation of its contract with CBS. 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. Not surprisingly, the contract that resulted from those negotiations required CBS to show the tournament in color. Even more important, ultimately, was a provision that limited CBS to just two minutes of commercials per half hour and prohibited “chain breaks,” which were brief commercials sold by local stations. More about all that in another post.

The Toughest Thing About the Presidents Cup . . .


. . . is being forced repeatedly to watch the PGA Tour’s guys-standing-in-line-with-pint-glasses-commercial for the Charles Schwab Cup. It would be bad enough if it were merely incomprehensible. I’ve gotten pretty fast at hitting the mute button when it comes on, but I will never be able to unsee Bernhard Langer’s leering grin.

Frank Discussion of Testicles During LPGA Tour Broadcast

Among the advertisers on the Golf Channel broadcast of the current LPGA Tour event is the Duluth Trading Company, which is promoting its Ballroom Jeans. Those aren’t jeans that are nice enough to waltz in; they’re jeans that have extra room for your balls. A women’s sports event may seem like an odd place to advertise a product intended for overweight middle-aged men—but keep in mind that the main viewing audience for LPGA Tour events is overweight middle-aged men.

Beef Box: Don’t Call Fairway Woods “Metals”

My first driver—which was partly responsible for my decision, at the age of thirteen, to give up golf for more than twenty years—was a two-generation hand-me-down with a head that could have filled in as the foot of a Queen Anne chair. Nowadays, though, even seven-year-olds demand titanium. A few years ago, I played in a senior event with a guy from another club who carried an ancient Spalding persimmon 3-wood, but he was the only Luddite in the field and he never hit a good shot with it. Golfers who still use clubs with wooden heads are invariably older than seventy, and they are stubborn, cheap, ignorant, or a combination of all three. You seldom see actual wood anymore even in the golf bags of estranged wives, who occupy the lowest rung on the club recycling ladder.

The question, though, is whether this change in technology necessitates a change in terminology. Various prominent television commentators,  Johnny Miller among them, have decided that it does. They refer to woods as “metals,” saying, for example, that a certain player has elected to go for the green with a “fairway metal” of some kind—perhaps a “3-metal.” Jim Nantz, on CBS, sometimes refers to a fairway wood generically as “a metal-headed club.”

There are three things wrong with this trend. The first is that it creates more confusion than it eliminates, since almost all modern golf clubs, including irons and putters, are “metal-headed.” The second is that “wood” is no more anachronistic than “iron.” (Irons haven’t been made of iron since Britain was ruled by Romans. Should we start calling those clubs “alloys”?) The third is that avoiding “wood” is excessively fastidious, like objecting to the use of the (useful) word “hopefully.” The television commentators are proposing a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Besides, retaining an archaic expression creates the possibility for creative revisionism later on.

“Why are woods called ‘woods’?” your great-great-granddaughter may ask you someday.

“Well, Little One,” you can explain, “there was an awfully good player back around the turn of the century. He hit the ball farther than anybody else, and he won every prize there was to win. In fact, I taught him everything he knew. Woods were named after him.”

Great Golf Course on TV This Week: Kingsbarns

The British Women’s Open is on this week, and it’s being held on one of my favorite courses: Kingsbarns, in St. Andrews. The Golf Channel’s coverage so far seems to be limited to putts, commercials, and talking heads, but occasionally the camera drifts past a few holes, on its way from the leaderboard back to the commentators’ booth. I’ve played Kingsbarns only once, and that was thirteen years ago, but I still often think about it, and I want to go back.

Kingsbarns looks like a links course but is actually an optical illusion. It was carved (by an American! in 2000!) from a featureless swath of seaside pastureland—but despite its lack of an ancient pedigree it’s a terrific course and it’s unusually fun to play. In addition, the clubhouse is the right scale (small), and it has a good bar with the most amazing panoramic windows, plus leather chairs you could sleep all night in.

During my single round, in 2004, we were held up on every shot by a painfully slow group ahead of us. On the suggestion of our bus driver, we complained in the bar and were given all our drinks for free (then left a tip that was big enough to cover pretty much the entire tab). That night, we ate at a restaurant recommended by the same driver, who had overruled the recommendation of our caddies. The suspicion on the trip was that the driver was receiving kickbacks from the restaurants he took us to, although I was inclined to trust him, having eaten in a few caddie-recommended pubs over the years. Here’s the Kingsbarns clubhouse:

Me Talking About Donald Trump in Japanese

Last week, a television crew from a Japanese news program interviewed me about Donald Trump, who was about to play golf with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The frame above depicts the moment, in 2012, when I momentarily mistook Trump for a bag-drop attendant and nearly slipped him five bucks. Here’s the whole segment:

The Most Dangerous Score in Match Play

I was watching the final match in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship on TV on Thursday. Scott Harvey was leading Stewart Hagestad by four holes with six holes to play. My wife and I had to leave to go out to dinner, so I turned on the DVR. “That guy’s in big trouble,” I told her as we left the house. She asked how far behind he was. “No,” I said. “His problem is that he’s too far ahead.”

Four up is the most dangerous score in match play. When you lead an opponent by one hole, you think only of extending your lead to two, but when you lead by four your focus turns insidiously toward the trophy room. You hadn’t expected the match to be this easy, yet here you are, so far ahead that your cat could finish it for you. Uh-oh—what if you lose?

Scott Harvey and Stewart Hagestad. (Photo by USGA)

Scott Harvey and Stewart Hagestad. (Photo by USGA)

Four up is the narrowest margin that seems too big to squander, and the widest one that seems small enough to throw away. It teeters unnervingly between the certainty of triumph and the possibility of humiliation. Meanwhile, you have to deal with an opponent who no longer has anything to lose.

I once watched my teammate Norm compete in an inter-club match in which his opponent played beautifully for fourteen holes and was 4 up with four holes to play. On the fifteenth tee, both men knew the match was basically over, because Norm would have to win all four remaining holes just to tie. But Norm birdied No. 15, and you could almost hear the gears of panic beginning to grind in his opponent’s brain: If I can lose one hole, why not two? (He then lost No. 16.) And if I can lose two, why not three? (He lost No. 17.) And if I can lose three . . .

Norm won the last hole, halving the match, and he did it without having to putt. In fact, he did it without having to hit an approach shot, because his opponent—who in his mind had returned to the clubhouse two holes earlier to explain to his teammates how he had wasted a lead that couldn’t be wasted—pulled his drive into a grove of trees, failed twice to punch his ball back into play, and conceded the hole right there, too ashamed to go on. As I watched him staggering up the hill, I wondered if he would ever play again.

Whenever I find myself down in a match, I try to channel Norm, whose calm perseverance made an inspiring case for never giving up. In a match many years ago, though, I ended up on the wrong side of that dangerous score, and the player I channeled, unfortunately, was Norm’s opponent. Playing against a better golfer, I somehow made all the putts that mattered for 11 holes and found myself four up with seven to play. Until the moment my putt dropped on No. 11, I had never truly believed I could win. Now, though, my strategy changed from innocently lethal offense to suicidally anxious defense. I counted the remaining holes on my fingers, like a blackjack player in Vegas deciding how much he can afford to lose.

You can guess most of the rest. I lost the match on the first extra hole, to a bogey. The worst of it was hearing the other guy, afterward, boasting about the deficit he had overcome. “Four up with seven to go!” he crowed to one of his teammates as I put my clubs back in my car, wondering if I would ever play again. (I beat him last year, though. This year, too.)

On Thursday, I turned on the DVR when my wife and I got back from dinner, but I had already guessed the result. Harvey lost the 32nd hole, and then the 33rd, and then the 35th, and then the 36th—all to birdies. Then Hagestad birdied the first extra hole, and they were done.

Photo by USGA.

Photo by USGA.

Masters Countdown: Great Moments in the History of Slow Play

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Ed Furgol, 1957 Masters. (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Not all that long ago, Masters competitors, playing in twosomes, were expected to finish 18 holes in about three hours, even during the tournament’s final round. After the 1956 Masters, a competitor wrote to Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and chairman, to complain that, after playing the first nine in an hour and a half, he had been told by an official to hurry up. You can read more at this blog’s official home, on the Golf Digest website. And if you “subscribe” to myusualgame.com, by filling in your email address in the blank on the right side of this page, you’ll be notified every time I post something new. And, if you’re willing to wait a month or so, you can find complete versions of all my old posts on this site, too, by paging down until you reach them.

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Doug Ford and Clifford Roberts, 1957 Masters. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)