NBC, Golf Channel Again Put 17th Hole Front and Center at The Players

TPC Sawgrass had a very wet few days leading up to this week’s Players Championship. The stadium course was drenched with torrential downpours so severe that the walkway to its signature 17th-hole island green was completely underwater last weekend. Thankfully, conditions have improved considerably in recent days, allowing NBC Sports Group to set up its annual sprawling production of golf’s most lucrative tournament with only minimal adjustments to its technical infrastructure.

“It was awfully wet, but everything is pretty much fine now,” says NBC Sports Group golf producer Tommy Roy. “We had 10.1 in. of rain over the weekend, and — it’s amazing — by Tuesday, the whole playing area of the course was pretty much back to normal. The [course] has these huge pumps that took care of everything. It did take our cable crews a bit of overtime to catch up. They couldn’t run the cables as far out into the woods as they would have liked because of issues with the rain and mud.”

‘The Fifth Major’
In accordance with their philosophy of treating The Players as golf’s de facto fifth major, NBC and Golf Channel are teaming up to present a record-high 80 hours of live tournament (22 hours) and news coverage (58 hours) from TPC Sawgrass this week. In all, the two networks have deployed 62 cameras for tournament coverage and an additional 14 for Golf Channel’s Live From The Players and Morning Drive on-site studio shows.

“It’s one common goal now with us [NBC and Golf Channel], and we’ve had no issues,” says Roy. “And the [record ratings for Golf Channel] can be directly attributed to the partnership because we promote the Golf Channel telecasts when we are on NBC to a huge audience and they push viewers [to NBC]. So this business model is definitely working.”

All About 17
As always, the coverage focuses on the famed par-3 17th hole, which boasts a total of 11 dedicated cameras, more than 30 microphones, and a toolshed full of unique production toys to cover one of the game’s most famous holes.

“Seventeen is almost like its own golf tournament,” says Ken Carpenter, NEP tech manager for NBC’s golf coverage. “It actually has more cameras and audio than your average college football game.”

The camera complement at the 17th includes a lipstick-size camera embedded in the lip of the island’s front bunker, two 360-degree POV “periscope cams” attached to pipes anchored to the bottom of the surrounding lake and providing green-level views of the hole, and the Actioncam aerial camera system, which flies over the lake between the 16th and 17th greens. NBC has also rolled out an ultra-slow-motion camera system provided by Inertia Unlimited (featuring the Vision Research Phantom camera) that shoots at a breathtaking 63,000 frames per second to reveal the compression of the golf ball as it is hit.

NBC’s coverage at 17 also includes a manned crane at the right of the 16th fairway and lifted 150 ft. high, giving the camera a clear view of 16, 17, and 18. In addition, another camera is located on the island to the right of the 17th green (where the operator is marooned for approximately eight hours) to get reactions from the 17th tee.

“The biggest thing is capturing the reactions and emotions from the players,” says Roy. “There is not a hole in golf like this that creates so much angst for players and has as  much suspense as [the ball is] in the air.”

While the array of cameras work to capture every single angle of 17, the audio side of covering a green surrounded by water is not easy task.

“We are trying to get the [sound of] splashes all the way around [the green],” says Carpenter, adding that, whereas mics are normally located 6 ft. back from the green, “there’s no place to put a mic out there [in the water], obviously. So it is quite the challenging hole.”

The New Sawgrass Compound
The most significant adjustment this year for NBC, Golf Channel, and an army of international broadcasters is a brand-new broadcast compound located behind the 16th green/17th tee. As the scope of the Players Championship production grew exponentially (thanks largely to NBC and Golf Channel’s increased presence since joining forces under the NBC Sports Group umbrella in 2011), the compound became more and more crowded.

“We kind of outgrew the old compound area, and they were actually constructing a new building right there anyway that would have eaten up even more of our room,” says Carpenter. “This now gives us room to grow and have better access.”

The new truck compound may be bigger, but it’s still plenty crowded, with more than a dozen trucks on hand for the various production entities. NBC is using NEP’s ND3 (A, B, C, and D units) and SS24 (A, B, and C), which just came from the Kentucky Derby, while Golf Channel has NEP’s SS16 and ST10.

NEP is also supplying remote-production facilities for Japanese public broadcaster NHK (SS14), BSkyB (Corplex’s Iridium and Zinc), and PGA Tour Entertainment (the ESU signal-distribution unit). In addition, PGA Tour Entertainment is using two Sure Shot hybrid production-transmission units.

CP Communications Back in Full Force
CP Communications has also returned to TPC Sawgrass, with its HDRF5 (PGA main), 6 (NBC main), 7 (International feed B unit), and 8 (NBC B unit) units on hand for fiber- and RF-transmission support.

HDRF6 is handling a total of 70 camera signals for NBC Sports Group, including 50 fibered hard cameras with MultiDyne SMPTE HUT camera transceivers and Telecast Fiber SHEDs (SMPTE hybrid elimination device). CP is also supporting NBC’s six POV cameras and 10 wireless RF cams throughout the course for NBC. Meanwhile, HDRF5 is supporting the international feed and another eight RF cams for PGA Tour Entertainment.

The entire system is controlled through a master RF router with 18 mini sites spread throughout the course. In all, CP has laid down more than 200,000 ft. of TAC-12 fiber on the course.

“Thirty-five reels of fiber were laid down in the rain and spliced in two days’ time; we have the best crew in the world out here,” says CP Communications SVP Kurt Heitmann of his 15-person on-site crew. “Nobody else can accomplish what this crew does under enormous pressure to be perfect and short on time.”

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