Live From the Open: The Golf Hole Mic Makes a Mixed Debut

It was a bumpy start to what might revolutionize the way golf sounds on television. The Golf Hole Mic, a regulation golf-hole insert fitted with a microphone element and a battery-powered transmitter, was deployed last week for Fox Sports’ broadcast of the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course in Washington, though not in the numbers expected and not without a few glitches. Instead of all 18 holes fitted with the device as planned, concerns over, particularly, screw lengths in the assemblies and cup depths, caused the USGA to limit their use to holes 16 through 18 on Saturday, with hole 14 added for Sunday’s play.

Onsite technicians from Orlando-based Professional Wireless Systems (PWS), which is marketing and managing use of the Golf Hole Mic for developer/manufacturer Quantum 5X, hurried to file down the offending screw tips and reconfigure the cup to better fit the course’s holes between beginning of play on Thursday and the weekend.

Another issue that confronted A1 Joe Carpenter was the fact that the microphone element used in testing the system last March, a DPA 4080, had been replaced with a Shure 184 element for cost and weather-durability reasons. This presented Carpenter with a considerably different gain structure for the Golf Hole Mic, whose input levels have to be carefully monitored and adjusted to be able to catch distant conversations between golfers and caddies on one hand and the more dynamic sound effects, such as balls dropping nearby or even into the holes.

“The difference in volume between those is immense,” he says.

Context Is Everything
The concerns surrounding the use of the new microphones arose within the context of competitors’ dissatisfaction with conditions at the course, particularly the greens; the momentarily frightening collapse of golfer Jason Day on Friday afternoon; and an especially complex audio infrastructure laid out across 18 holes, driving range, announcer booth, and media center, with 22 Calrec Hydra network boxes and four submixer locations scattered across the 250-acre course and MADI connections throughout. It was, says Carpenter, the most ambitious audio design he’d ever seen for the sport.

Into this, the Golf Hole Mic was dropped.

To resolve the issues, says PWS President Jim Van Winkle, technicians set up the equivalent of a machine shop on the course to file the intruding screws down and make other adjustments.

He adds that, for the U.S. Senior Open Championship, which started yesterday at the Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, CA, and for which Fox Sports will use the new microphones, the company is replacing the mic elements with the DPA elements used originally, which he said will rebalance the gain structure and vastly improve the noise floor.

Although its first deployment may have been less than perfect, the Golf Hole Mic nonetheless made a substantial impression. Carpenter cites the conversations between Jason Day and Dustin Johnson on the 18th hole (where Jordan Spieth was also overheard muttering, “This is the dumbest hole I’ve ever played in my life”) on Sunday that determined who would putt through first. Viewers were able to listen in on what may have been a critical bit of strategy that affected the ultimate standings.

“Once we got through all the problems, the audio we did get from these microphones was amazing,” Carpenter says. “We got better with it as we went along: we used it to tape on Saturday; by Sunday, we were using it live. It’s cool. It adds a completely new dimension to golf sound. It can change the way we hear it.”

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