Letter from Saugerties, March 13, 2006

Frank Hannigan, who last wrote to this site about the USGA Executive Committee's use of private jet travel, spotted the recent Gary McCord-CBS-Masters post and offered his second exclusive "letter."

Dear Geoff,
I notice you ran the weird Golf World story about Gary McCord and the Masters with a straight face.  The story said McCord is no longer persona non grata at Augusta, that CBS can assign him as a Masters announcer whenever it feels like doing so.

BUT (and it says so on page 13) “McCord turns down Augusta National’s offer to return to CBS’ Masters telecast.”

The likelihood of the following is infinitely higher than Gary McCord’s return to Augusta:  Osama bin Laden turns himself in, the president says “no hard feelings” and Osama is seated next to Laura Bush at next year’s state of the union message.

Golf World (owned by the Newhouses, who know less about golf than Osama) also whispers it has long heard that there is a clause in McCord’s contract whereby he will not permit the network to assign him to do the Masters.

For l5 years I had a contract with ABC to lurk around that network’s golf telecasts. If I insisted to my agent, he would have inserted a clause which the network would have accepted as the harmless earmark of a nut, that under no circumstances could ABC assign me to be the host of the Oscars telecast.

Yes, it is true contractually that CBS has the right to put McCord back on the telecast. That would be the last Masters ever to air on CBS. Augusta would not turn it over to NBC because the last thing it needs is a Johnny Miller Masters.

But the Disney Corporation, owner of ABC and ESPN, which recently pulled out of Tour golf effective 2007, would get back into golf in a New York minute given the chance to do the Masters.

McCord’s work was disliked intensely by Hord Hardin and Jack Stephens, the two predecessors of current Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson.  McCord was seen as trying to sell himself, not the golf, during the Masters. He was warned to cool it.

After the warning McCord, assigned to the 17th hole, then managed to work into his commentary the phrases “bikini wax” (which I personally thought amusing) and “body bags” (which I found miles beyond tasteless.)

Then CBS producer Frank Chirkinian didn’t even have to be told.  There would be no more McCord at the Masters.

So why is the story of CBS new independence being planted in Golf World? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s because the president of CBS Sports, Sean McManus, has also been made president of CBS News. It doesn’t look right for the president of a network news operation to be shoved around and pocketed by the management of a golf tournament.

Meanwhile, the content of the Masters telecasts is determined as it has been – by the club, not the network.  When Golf World’s girlfriend Martha Burk (whatever happened to her?) failed utterly three years ago, the decision to not so much as mention Ms. Burke’s threatened protest--which had been THE golf story of that year--was that of Augusta National, not CBS.

When McCord did his “bikini wax” and “body bag” shtick my friend Peter Alliss, the great British golf announcer, first sided with McCord. Peter said that if you do live television long enough some things are bound to come out of your mouth you wish hadn’t.

I told Peter that the folks at Augusta were guided by their understanding that McCord’s little witticisms were logged in by him in advance on a laptop.

Peter said “Oh, you mean he wrote down his jokes in advance?  Oh well, that’s cheating.”