Golf On the Little Screen: When the Game Was First Televised

Golfers Frank Stranahan, Lew Worsham, Petty Berg and Wiffi Smith
Lew Worsham (center) was a key player in two of golf's earliest television broadcasts. Bettmann/Getty Images

The first television broadcast of golf shots being played and demonstrated happened in the United Kingdom on the BBC in 1938. But that broadcast was just a brief exhibition of the game by a solitary golfer, not a tournament.

The question before us, then, is this: When was a golf tournament first televised? And what was that tournament?

First Tournament on TV: 1947 U.S. Open

In 1947, St. Louis, Mo., television station KSD-TV broadcast the U.S. Open, played at St. Louis Country Club. But the broadcast was only within the station's local area. The tournament winner was Lew Worsham, who defeated Sam Snead in a playoff.

First National Golf Broadcast: 1952 In U.K.

If we want to know which golf tournament was the first televised on a national broadcast, that distinction goes to a tournament aired by the BBC in the U.K. in 1952.

The BBC broadcast the 1952 Daks Tournament from the Wentworth Club, a tournament won by Fred Daly. It wasn't much of a broadcast: With only one camera, the BBC only showed play from the famous golf course's second hole. So viewers didn't get to see any late action, any shots that ultimately decided the outcome.

Despite that, the 1952 Daks Tournament, on the BBC, was the first golf tournament anywhere in the world televised nationally.

First National U.S. Broadcast: 1953 World Championship

It took until 1953 before any golf tournament was broadcast nationally in the United States. That tournament was the World Championship of Golf (sometimes referred to as the Tam O'Shanter World Championship).

The event was played just outside Chicago and televised for one hour per day by the ABC Network.

The owner of Tam O'Shanter Country Club was a fellow named George S. May. May was quite a golf lover, and also a lover of making the news. He was also quite willing to part with his money. Because, while he started hosting pro tournaments in the 1940s, by 1953 he was putting on four tournaments simultaneously (men's, women's and amateur events) at Tam O'Shanter.

In 1953 his purse included a winner's share of $25,000, which by itself exceeded the total purse of every other event on the PGA Tour that year.

The hullabaloo over the (for the time) outrageous money involved prompted the network to dive in with the first national golf broadcast in America. And the tournament wound up producing a shot worthy of the event's place in golf broadcast history.

Lew Worsham — yes, him again — was trailing the leader in the clubhouse, Chandler Harper, by one stroke as he teed off No. 18 in the final round. His drive left Worsham 115 yards to the green. He hit a wedge onto the putting surface and watched it roll 45 feet right into the hole for an eagle 2 and a one-shot victory.

In many respects, that shot helped launch golf into the American broadcasting mainstream.