Is Augusta National really the American Singapore?
That's what HBO dubbed it in a segment of its inaugural "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel."
Frank Chirkinian, CBS' longtime golf producer who will be working his 37th Masters at Augusta, Ga., this weekend, called the Singapore analogy ridiculous.
"How many domestics have they hung at Augusta lately?" he said.
Chirkinian was referring to the hanging in Singapore of Philippine maid Flor Contemplacion last month. She was accused of killing another Philippine maid and her 4-year-old charge, but some claimed the 4-year-old drowned in a tub, and that relatives then killed the maid in a fit of rage and framed Contemplacion, who wasn't given due process.
Singapore is also where American teen-ager Michael Fay was flogged last year.
Chirkinian appeared in the HBO piece, complaining about the Masters tradition of having the defending champion put the green jacket on the new champion. He called the ceremony, which is conducted in the confines of the Butler Cabin away from the crowd, "sanitized," and said, "You can just hear the TV sets clicking off."
But after viewing the HBO piece written and narrated by Frank Deford, Chirkinian had more complaints.
"It showed a lot of the current tabloid mentality in television," Chirkinian said of the HBO show. "They went out of their way to say disparaging things."
Chirkinian, calling the Masters the best-run golf tournament in the world, acknowledged that it is run autocratically, adding, "But it's effective."
Chirkinian said the thing he would change first if he had more control would be expanding the coverage from nine to 18 holes.
"We've been ready to do 18 holes for 15 years," he said.
Also, he wasn't happy with the stuffed shirts at Augusta when, after last year's Masters, they told him to take Gary McCord off this year's coverage.
McCord's transgression, you may recall, was saying the greens at Augusta were so slick that they seemed to have been groomed with "bikini wax" and saying some bumpy ground looked "suspiciously like body bags."
During a conference call with reporters this week, Chirkinian was asked why he had not backed McCord as a matter of principle.
"How would you like to go back to management and the stockholders and the affiliates and tell them, for the sake of principle, we just lost the Masters?" he replied.
So instead of McCord at the 17th hole, it will be Jim Nelford, a Canadian commentator CBS uses occasionally.
No question the Augusta stuffed shirts are open to criticism, particularly when you consider how long it took before an African American was invited to the Masters. Lee Elder, in 1975, was the first.
But one good thing the stuffed shirts do is limit CBS to four 60-second commercial spots an hour. Normally on golf, CBS has 10 90-second spots an hour.
There are only two sponsors--the makers of a luxury car and an insurance company. No promos are allowed and there are no breaks for local stations.
After all the commercials during CBS' coverage of the NCAA tournament, and particularly Monday's final, a reprieve is welcome.
All the commercials probably contributed to CBS' tournament ratings overall being 12% off from last year.
Besides the regular timeouts during Monday's game, there were eight three-minute television timeouts. UCLA appreciated that, since Coach Jim Harrick used only six players after Tyus Edney left the game, but nobody else did.
Jim Nantz, who replaces Pat Summerall in the 18th-hole tower alongside Ken Venturi and will also continue to serve as the host of CBS' Masters coverage, has been on quite a run, having just finished the NCAA tournament. "I took a red-eye flight here after a very emotional night in Seattle Monday," Nantz said from Augusta. "What made it so emotional was that John Wooden was there, that he had lived long enough to see UCLA win another championship. After we went off the air, Billy (Packer) and I were talking about Coach Wooden, who Billy has so much admiration for, and Billy, who is not the emotional type, began weeping." . . . Nantz went right to work Tuesday morning, interviewing Tiger Woods for CBS' late-night highlights show tonight at 11:35.
To help Nantz with his double duty as anchor and host, CBS will use Bill Macatee, the host of the USA network's early-round coverage. . . . The CBS crew also includes Ben Wright, Bobby Clampett, Tom Weiskopf, Verne Lundquist and Peter Kostis. . . . This is CBS' 40th Masters, and Walter Cronkite will be on hand Sunday to commemorate the occasion.