Call it a major coincidence—the 1986 Masters, which many consider the most dramatic of all time, was also the first one captured in a highlight video available to the public. Augusta National G.C. had been producing a Masters highlight film annually since 1961, but its first 25 shows lacked any commercial outlet. They were shot with movie cameras and distributed as bulky 16mm films stored in protective green platters. Only a few hundred copies of “the movie” (as many Augusta National folks still call the videos) would be printed each year. Sponsor firms Cadillac and Texaco, along with companies whose management included Augusta members, would be presented with the film reels and allowed to use them for corporate entertainment.
Many of these corporations would then conduct informal lending programs by which civic groups—The Elks, Rotary Club—could screen the highlights at their meetings. Golf coaches who were able to borrow one of the prints would dim the lights at awards dinners and let high schoolers of the pre-cable era relive the latest Masters.
In the 1980s, as Americans began setting up videocassette players in their dens and living rooms at a rapid rate, club officials took notice. “There had been previous plans to release a movie to videotape in 1986 prior to Nicklaus’s win,” says Augusta National staff member Jill Maxwell. “The timing was fortuitous.” Indeed, the club must have felt it caught lightning in a videotape box when the Bear shot 65 on Sunday to edge Greg Norman by a stroke and win a fifth jacket at age 46.
Chris Schenkel, part of the early CBS broadcast teams, was synonymous with the highlight show from its inception until a few years before his death in 2005 at age 82. Ironically, Schenkel was not involved in the 1986 highlight project, which was produced by CBS Sports and used on-air calls plus intro narration by lead broadcaster Pat Summerall.
Augusta National’s original outlay of funds for a crew, film stock and post-production work must have seemed well-founded given the advent of the Big Three era. Arnold Palmer had won the Masters in 1958 and ’60, Nicklaus had competed well at Augusta and was coming off a U.S. Open win in 1960 and Gary Player in ’61 would hold up his end by winning the masters scoring a stroke over Palmer and amateur Charlie Coe. Along with the ’86 epic, it is the tournaments from this era that Golf Channel viewers—during leaner years for programming—would occasionally see in highlight form at the nether ends of the programming schedule.
“The club began making a highlight film because Clifford Roberts felt there ought to be a moving-picture record of every tournament,” explains Ken Bowden, the author and longtime Nicklaus associate who handled script-writing chores on the highlight reel during the 1970s and early ‘80s. Reg Welles was the producer who set the jaunty yet reverent tone and style of the highlight films. None other than prose stylist Herbert Warren Wind was brought in to pen the voice-over scripts, at least in the early going. When production was complete, a group of ANGC members would gather at a city club in Manhattan to screen the show and give it their OK.
“That was tedious work for the writer, grinding through 50-some hours of footage,” says Bowden. “We were writing cutlines, not Shakespeare. After a few years Herb got tired of doing it, so I took over.”
Bowden remembers producer Welles marshalling a sizable crew to handle filming. The late Frank Chirkinian, longtime Masters producer for CBS Sports, says he often advised Roberts to discontinue independent film production and let CBS build the highlight package out of its broadcast footage. “The tab for film production was up around $300,000—that’s the number I heard,” recalled Chirkinian.
The 1986 video would become the only Masters highlight reel regularly stocked by golf outlets that specialized in books and videos, and its production values were excellent. Nonetheless, the club turned from CBS back to a more independent approach after ’86, handing the project to IMG’s video subsidiary, TWI Productions, and field producer Jeff Harvey. (Since the switch back to CBS as highlight producer, which occurred in mid-1990s, David Winner has handled much of the production duties.)
While seldom presented as a scheduled broadcast in the U.S., the highlight show is popular with overseas networks. Harvey, an Englishman who oversaw the project during its six-year IMG/TWI era, said the BBC would air the previous year’s film on the Sunday before every Masters Week, as a way to pique viewer interest. Harvey still feels the glimpse those highlight shows provide of the club and the tournament is a rare one.
“We put a lot of thought into our B-roll work,” he says. “In 1990, the year Faldo returned to defend, we got permission to film the players going into the Champions Dinner. We got them putting on their green jackets, then posing for the group photographs. I got a thrill out of that, and I believe ours is still the only footage ever of those proceedings.” Harvey also filmed a sequence of Phil Mickelson as an amateur up in the Crow’s Nest, which appears in the 1991 highlight show.
Like every collector of these tapes, Harvey can’t think of the series without warmly recalling the departed Schenkel and his soothing baritone. “Chris was the Masters movie,” Harvey says. He once positioned Schenkel next to the 13th green to tape a setup that would be edited into special versions of the show available only to the two television sponsors. It was early in the morning during a practice round when Schenkel and Harvey walked through heavy dew to a location beyond the ropes. A tournament official riding by spotted them and made a beeline in their direction.
”He severely rebuked us for leaving footprints in the dew,” says Harvey. “It was my first Masters and I was certain I would be banned for life right there on the spot. Chris, the old hand, put his arm around my shoulder and said ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’ I’ll never forget how relieved that made me feel.” Schenkel took his last turn in the narrator’s chair in 2002.