With the Masters postponement, I have been enjoying the Atlanta Journal and Constitution giving us a rerun of the best of the late Furman Bisher, who probably loved the Masters as much as the founders, Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts.
I miss Furman. Not only was he a columnist extraordinaire, he was a historian and a fact and lore advocate that made him, if not lovable, an arresting compadre at dinner. His knowledge set him apart and he worked as hard writing his last column as he did his first.
Last July In Northern Ireland at the golfing sanctuary that is Royal Portrush, which hosted the playing of the 148th British Open, I thought of Bisher all week. A gifted writer and a golfing aficionado nonpareil. If he had been at Portrush, he would have found hidden nuggets of history and lore that would have resonated with his coverage of golf’s oldest championship — which was moved from the British Isles for the first time since 1951.
Bisher could top most sportswriters, whatever the sport, but when it came to golf, few were his peers. Dan Jenkins, as legendary as any sports writer of our times (Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest; author of sundry books) thought Furman was one of the best golf writers ever.
Bisher loved golf with commitment, reverence and feeling — even awe. He knew the game’s history and wrote passionately and insightfully, always leaving subscribers eagerly awaiting his next column.
Although Bisher was a columnist who could be insightful, informative, provoking and irreverent, he was at his best when he made words sing. He was opinionated, but he was also wistful. He was old school, a two-fingered typist, who was emotionally stimulated when games, such as football and baseball, took place in the afternoon. Perhaps that is why he loved golf so much. “Thankfully,” he said at dinner one evening during a long ago British Open, “television can’t make them play golf at midnight.”
For years, Furman, Denis LaLanne, the most highly regarded sports columnist in France, and I covered the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open (and on occasion the PGA, our own Grand Slam).
At the Open championship in July, we would play golf in the morning, enjoy lunch and then head to the championship venue for the afternoon competition.
The evenings were reserved for a cozy pub for a filling meal, accented by a pint of lager or two or more.
There were times when we had stimulating discussions about some issue or personality in sports — we were very close, but we did not always agree on all topics. The bond grew tighter as we grew older, however. One April when LaLanne flew over from Paris for the Masters, Bisher and his pretty wife Lynda invited us for an overnight stay at his home in Fayetteville, where Furman had retired.
After dinner, Furman began to speak of the fun we had had together. Suddenly tears began to emerge. “You mean so much to me,” he whispered sentimentally and emotionally. He had a soft side to him, but you really had to know him to experience that trait.
In his prime, Bisher was named by Time as one of the top five sports columnists in the country. A prolific writer, he was never content just to contribute his sprightly, often off-beat, column which reflected a variety of viewpoints from the informative to the cynical. A reader might have taken exception to Furman’s stance but if you paid attention, you knew he had a high regard for the language and facts. When it came to work ethic and due-diligence, he never shortchanged subscribers.
Furman was everywhere in his career: Wimbledon, the Olympics, the World Series, the Superdome, St. Andrews, Augusta, spring training, Churchill Downs, the Hedges and the bushes. At age 90, he would drive across four counties to cover a minor league baseball game. He was good at what he did, because he loved what he was doing — from the first column to the last.
Bisher had an influence on the Braves coming to Atlanta; also the Atlanta Falcons. He knew Billy Payne was to become the Chairman at Augusta before Billy knew. Not sure what Furman would have thought about the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the guess here is that he would have been taken by the charm and environment of Sun Trust Park and the Battery.
One thing that would have turned him off would have been college football, which he dearly loved, having become so connected with a disconnect of “team first” attitudes. The money madness would have raised his ire and one-and-done would have given him apoplexy.
Of course, those who remember Furman best, likely miss, most of all, his “I’m thankful” column, which ran on Thanksgiving morning. His sensitivity to the good things in life and the simpler times overwhelmed readers who felt that starting the day with his Thanksgiving column on the last Thursday in November was as important as a blessing before Thanksgiving dinner.
I don’t have to wait until November to say it, “I’m thankful that I knew Furman Bisher and that he was a friend.” Selah!