Memories of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf

Televised golf has had many high moments over the years, but in my opinion none better than that outstanding production, Shell’s Wonderful World Of Golf. The program didn’t invent the format, but it certainly raised the approach to a new standard of excellence.

In the early television days, All Star Golf was an attempt to bring the game into living rooms all across America. The Golf Channel still runs many of those early programs and it’s interesting to see the contrast in the state of the art of TV then and now. You can see an old station wagon following the players around, carrying camera gear. For the most part, just one camera was used and you rarely saw a player tee off. Stark diagrams of the holes were used both to condense the telecast and to allow time for moving equipment around.

The year was 1957. The show’s original host, Jim Britt, had been a baseball broadcaster for both the Boston Braves and the Boston Red Sox and later in his career for the Cleveland Indians.

All Star Golf lasted three years and was responsible for the birth of Shell’s Wonderful World. It was in 1960 that the president of Shell USA, Monroe Spaght, watched an episode and became extremely interested in the possibilities of golf on television. But he envisioned a much larger universe than that which All Star Golf encompassed. The older show filmed most of its matches around Chicago and then later some other cities around the country.

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Spaght had bigger ideas. Shell was, of course, a worldwide corporation and Spaght wanted a show that crossed the globe in its scope. The result was Shell’s Wonderful World Of Golf. Gene Sarazen was hired to host the show and he went on to take viewers through nine years and over ninety matches at some of the world’s most beautiful spots.

Indeed, one of the major features that made the program so unique was the time it devoted to mini-travelogues devoted to the area in which the matches took place. It was a program that not only concentrated on golf but also opened up worlds of beauty to its wide audience, taking us places we’ve never been and educating us to the variety of locations where golf is played.

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The program was also notable for its breadth of commentary from many different sources. From Sarazen to Dave Marr to George Rogers, the commentary was always relevant and informative. But perhaps the highlight of it all was the eloquent contributions served up by Jack Whitaker, whose mastery of the spoken word and the images created by it were second to none. Whitaker could sum up in thirty seconds the spirit and the character of the game and the locale in which it was played. He lent and air of authority to the program as a whole and especially to the wrap up following the match.

I would love to see the program return featuring today’s stars. The Golf Channel does show the older programs regularly and they are cherished memories, indeed. Nonetheless, it would be terrific to see today’s players in a similar situation. Probably it’s too expensive an undertaking these days, but it sure would be nice.


by Jim Nettleton