Gene Sarazen and Shell's Wonderful World of Golf
In the contemporary golf world where Tiger Woods receives the lion's share of attention, cable television channels abound, and made-for-television golf events are presented on a regular basis, most people do not recall the television show that was the forefather of the modern golf small screen presentation. In the summer of 1960, Monroe Spaght, the president of Shell U.S.A, watched a television production of All-Star Golf, the first made-for-television golf program. The show featured 18-hole matches between some of the top American players of the era. Initially, the matches were filmed in the Chicago area, but soon other courses around the country became involved. While Spaght found promise in the idea of golf on television, he saw the potential for something far beyond a match between two participants. Capitalizing on the worldwide presence of Shell's parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, he envisioned matches that would be played on the great courses of the world by the greatest golfers in the world. Thus was born Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.
GENE SARAZEN AND SHELL'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF, by Al Barkow with Mary Ann Sarazen, is the story of the beginnings of a television event that continues to be presented today. For over 40 years, the greatest golfers in the world have traveled the globe for individual matches that are a combination of golf, travelogue and history. Perhaps more than any program, Shell's Wonderful World of Golf has impacted and shaped the golf that most of us watch on television today.
Shell officials were not well versed in the nuances and history of golf. They hired Herbert Warren Wind as the show's golf writer and consultant. Wind had already achieved recognition as a golf writer and historian. He had written for The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated and had coauthored with Ben Hogan the classic golf instruction book, FIVE LESSONS: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Wind was the man who would select golf courses around the world for match sites and could also suggest foreign golfers, many of whom were unknown in America, as participants. He also suggested that golf legend Gene Sarazen be the host of the television show.
Barkow has provided the reader with a brief biography of Sarazen, a golf icon of the 20s and 30s. Born Eugenio Saraceni, Sarazen changed his name because "Saraceni sounded more like a violin player than a golfer." He became the first professional golfer to win all four major golf championships. He scored a spectacular and rare double eagle to clinch victory in the 1935 Masters. It was a shot that propelled the tournament and Sarazen into national prominence. Sarazen was perfect for the commentator role. His knowledge of the game, the players, and the courses around the world made him an invaluable asset to Shell. Sarazen would ultimately host nine years of programs covering 92 matches in 48 countries. His match with Henry Cotton, played at St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, became a classic and can still be seen on The Golf Channel.
The most fascinating portion of the saga of SHELL'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF can be found in the descriptions of the production of the individual television shows. Contemporary golf fans have become complacent with modern technology and its impact on televised golf. Golf matches even avail themselves of lights to allow for evening matches. In the 1960s television technology was far more primitive. Two days were often required to film one 18-hole match. Players were sometimes forced to wait twenty minutes between shots as cameras, cables and crowds were repositioned for the next shot. On occasion, because an actual shot was not adequately filmed, producers had to include phony shots that were filmed separately from the actual match. To read these chapters is to understand how far televised golf and indeed all televised sports have come.
This book is a wonderful addition to any golf library, but it's also a little bit more. It reminds us of an era when television and the entertainment industry were still in their infant stages. How they were able to grow both artistically and technologically is the message that can be learned from SHELL'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF and its progeny.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on July 7, 2003