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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Remembering How Fred Raphael Shaped Golf Television

One man--who wasn't even much of a golfer--created two of the most influential series in the televising of the sport. He was Fred Raphael, and his book, My Mulligan to Golf, tells the often-hilarious story of how he brought us Shell's Wonderful World of Golf and the origins of the Champions Tour.  It's golf history with numerous amusing twists.

For those of us who've been following the game for a few years, Shell's Wonderful World of Golf was a delightful look into the personalities and games of the best golfers in the world playing in matches on the best golf courses around the globe. The first telecast was a match between Gene Littler and Byron Nelson at Pine Valley--how much better do you want? It was followed by shows featuring Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Tony Lema, Roberto DeVicenzo, and many, many others. The hosts, Gene Sarazen and Jimmy Demaret, were insightful, funny, and worth the price of admission by themselves.

The story of how Raphael came to put the show on TV despite the fact that he was a neophyte in the game is full of fascinating anecdotes, improbable occurrences, and delightfully off-beat commentary. It gives the reader a good look not only at golf, but behind the scenes of sports television as well. As a former broadcaster, I found that aspect of the book as interesting (almost) as the stories about the world famous golfers and their performances.

Raphael also gave birth to the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf Tournament, which in turn begat the Senior Tour (now the Champions Tour). How many millions of dollars have been earned by touring pros who extended their playing careers as a result? More importantly, how many millions of golf fans have had the opportunity to see the greats of the game in action because of Raphael's concept? It's a story well worth reading.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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