Golf Writers Dinner at Augusta

April 09, 2009

Say what you will about the annual Golf Writers Association of America dinner—and you'll have plenty of time to say it if you sit there till the end—where else can one catch golf's immortals in a sensitive and grateful mode—grateful even for the media? It happens Wednesday evening of Masters week and normally requires the patience of a gold miner: Sift, sift, sift…ah, there's a nugget. But last night, perhaps because we had the perfect alignment of stars (who actually appreciate the media) and because those stars are beginning to notice what a decimated print landscape might mean to their sport, it had an unusual poignancy. The fact that the lifetime achievement award went to a writer laid off a few months ago, underscored the point.

Immortals on hand included Jack Nicklaus, Jay Haas, Padraig Harrington, Juli Inkster, heart transplant survivor Erik Compton and, on the media side, Art Spander, the lifetime achievement winner, and the legendary Furman Bisher. Nicklaus, Haas, Harrington and Inkster are four who understand and even appreciate the media. Compton, the subject of Jim Moriarty's award-winning story in Golf World,is just plain appreciative. And determined to earn his way a trip to Augusta. He won the Ben Hogan Comeback award and likened himself to Hogan because of his "stubbornness." When he spoke of "a few lonely nights" in waiting for his second heart transplant and facing the possibility that he'd never play golf again, it gave us all a momentary piece of the perspective he seems to have gained from his struggles. Compton even saw a "blessing" in a duck hook that caused him to miss a cut and get home, close to a Miami hospital, when that 2007 attack occurred. Nicklaus, who won the Charlie Bartlett award for contribution to society, told the story of his and wife Barbara's determination to raise money for children's causes after their daughter Nan, as a toddler, suffered series of blackouts after swallowing a crayon. The Nicklaus's have raised more than $10 million for children's charities and Nan's attendance last night, and the fact that she now has five children of her own, brought home the significance of their work.

Harrington thanked the Irish writers he's known since his junior days and acknowledged the tough times that the media was going through. "The good thing about tough times," he said, "is that it's a chance to make things happen." And we all wished that we could bring back some of the writers who have either lost jobs or not been assigned to cover this year's first major. Inkster and Haas were similarly gracious, and Spander, who'd been the brunt of a dozen jokes about his indefatigable ability to talk, was succinct. But the hit of the evening was Bisher, who at 90 writes a blog read by most of the sports media. He pointed out that the Richardson Award for contribution to the game was the third award he'd received named after a New York Times sportswriter. The second, the Lincoln Werden Award, was given by the Met Golf Writers in New York.

"I remember running into George Peper, the Golf Magazine editor, who was then living in Scotland," said Bisher. "I said, George what are you doing here?'"

"Oh, I like to come back to these dinners, and I'm giving an award this year, though at this point I think we're kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel," said Peper. "What are you doing here, Furman?"

"I'm the bottom of the barrel," replied Bisher."

And a room full of golf writers who've been feeling like that of late, roared.

(Click here for the Golf Digest and Golf World winners.)

--Bob Carney