April 20, 2013

Legendary announcer Pat Summerall helped put Hilton Head on the map

Legendary sports announcer Pat Summerall, who died earlier this week, helped put Hilton Head Island on the map with his coverage of the Heritage.

Jim Nantz was sitting in the parking lot of Hilton Head Island's Red Fish restaurant when he got the news Tuesday evening.

Pat Summerall, his friend and mentor as a CBS Sports anchor, had just died.

America would soon react, feeling the loss of a soothing baritone voice they had welcomed into their living rooms for decades -- the "voice of football" who broadcast 16 Super Bowls, 26 editions of the Masters, and many of the U.S. Open tennis championships.

Summerall at 82 had lived a most improbable life, unwanted by parents who separated while he was in the womb, an NFL kicker who was born with a club foot, a play-by-play man who rose from the ranks of a player and whose succinct use of the language resonated over his bombastic partner in the booth, John Madden.

And he became a trusted voice in another improbable story -- the transformation of Hilton Head from a wilderness to the 45-year home of a PGA Tour event.

Summerall was a no-nonsense storyteller in the booth, just as the grandmother who helped raise him was on her front porch in rural Florida.

The New York Times recounted an intervention by Summerall's closest friends, which in 1992 would lead him to a transformed life, and Christianity, after being treated for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Clinic.

But for the roving CBS Sports golf team that is here this week to telecast the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, Summerall's loss is more personal than a news story. Summerall anchored their coverage here for more than a decade, and worked the Heritage for almost 20 years, ending in 1993.

On Tuesday night, Nantz went through with his business event at Red Fish.

"The rest of the evening I was riding around thinking of Pat driving up and down these roads in Sea Pines and the great times he had being here and the feeling that I have felt every year coming off of Augusta to Hilton Head 28 years in a row," Nantz said.

"The wonderful, warm embrace that you feel becomes a part of your life. Pat felt that, too. Pat felt a real sense of community here, too. We feel a pride in being part of it. We feel an ownership in it. I was thinking all night long that this was for a number of years a very big part, an enjoyable part, of Pat Summerall's life."


Summerall's Heritage legacy lives on in a call as familiar to CBS as the Harbour Town Lighthouse on the finishing hole. Nantz finds a way to work at least part of it into every Heritage telecast and everyone likes to imitate it:

"Nnn, I'm Pat Sumerall and I'll be at 18. Nnn, out-of-bounds, condominiums on the right. Nnn, Calibogue Sound on the left. It's a hole where par is a meaningful score."

CBS's legacy on Hilton Head is much harder to put into words.

Ask Sea Pines director of golf John Farrell, who oversees the Harbour Town Golf Links where the Heritage has been played since 1969, if television matters and he says, "Only every day."

Vin Scully, Summerall and Nantz have been the primary anchors, and other legendary broadcasters have included Jack Whitaker and Ken Venturi, who is to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on May 6.

Behind the scenes is a village of trucks and wires and golf carts, and about 200 people, many of them with 20, 30, even 40 years in the business. And when things look tough, whether they're doing golf, football or basketball, someone will always say: "Out-of-bounds, condominiums to the right. Calibogue Sound to the left."

The late Frank Chirkinian was the producer for many years, overseeing a tight-knit group whose epicenter off the air was a rented house on Mizzenmast Lane by the 16th green.

Chirkinian has been succeeded by Lance Barrow, who started as a spotter for Summerall. He just produced the Masters. In January he produced the Super Bowl. Barrow is considered the most important producer in sports television today.

After producing Thursday's opening round, Barrow headed for Dallas. He and Madden were to speak at Summerall's funeral Saturday morning.

Before he left, Barrow helped me put in perspective their work here.

He said the broadcast goes to 200 to 250 countries around the globe. He said the PGA Tour figures that during the four days of coverage on both the Golf Channel and CBS, more than a half billion people will watch at least part of the Heritage.


Hilton Head is apparently a cross between a candy store and Ripley's Believe it or Not for a television producer.

"First off, it has beauty," Barrow said. Camera operators are looking not only for the best golf shots, but also the best shots of natural beauty.

"We have the ocean," Barrow said. "We have a great golf course. And you know we don't go to a lot of golf courses that have alligators all over the place. You know, that's unique. We have a great picture of the lighthouse. We have great boats, and a lot of wildlife. Great birds.

"We show people riding bicycles, recreation, things like that. Hilton Head has a lot of things instead of just showing golf.

"It's not just a golf tournament."

With Barrow representing the crew at the funeral of a man who became like a father figure to him -- a man whose improbable life story included a master's degree in Russian history -- Nantz planned to include in Saturday's show a tribute to Summerall.

"He was a true minimalist," Nantz told me. "It was never about how loud Pat Summerall shouted. It was the fact that he had a presence; his voice had a resonance about it that made you know it was a big-time event."

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

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