Players Championship Tees Up Historic Run of Golf Coverage for NBC
NEP facilities provide technical backbone; Pinpoint offers wind-measurement advance
The Players golf championship, arguably the PGA TOUR’s most important annual event and one considered by many to be a golf major in everything but name, is under way in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. For NBC Sports, the Golf Channel, and their production teams, this year’s event kicks off what is arguably their busiest golf slate ever.
NBC Sports will not only have its regular share of PGA TOUR events but will also be at the center of NBC’s first-ever production of a British Open Championship (from Royal Troon in Scotland in July), its first-ever production of golf as an Olympic sport from Rio in August, and the return of the Ryder Cup competition to U.S. soil in September. And there are three FedEx Cup events between the Olympics and the Ryder Cup.
“Every one of those has its own challenges, but what makes us strong is the team,” says Ken Goss, SVP, remote operations, NBC Sports. “That’s what I am most proud of: how the team can come together.”
There are a couple of noticeable additions to this year’s production of the Players, not the least of which is a two-point Cablecam system covering the most famous area of the course: the 16th and 17th holes. It extends from behind the 16th green, over the lake, past the little island in the middle of the lake, and behind the famed 17th island green.
Also new this year are two virtual-graphics enhancements: an overlay on greens will allow viewers to see the undulations within live video coverage, and Pinpoint ultrasound measurement of wind speed and direction is updated four times a second.
“We started planning this months and months ahead of time and have well over 200 people onsite,” notes Ryan Soucy, senior director, golf operations, NBC Sports.
Also helping in planning this year is that NBC Sports Technical Manager Dan Beard has moved to within driving distance of TPC Sawgrass, making it possible for him to stop by the course during the off-season.
“A permanent piece of PVC tubing was put in for the bunker camera on the 17th hole,” he says, “and I was able to zip down for the day and then get home.
The TV compound is chock-full of NEP production units. ND4 A, B, and C are at the center of the production and supported by SS24, which rolled in from the Kentucky Derby. Two CP Communications trucks are handling more than 20 wireless cameras as well as RF-mic needs for eight on-course reporters. NCP7 is supporting Sky Sports (which brought in its own edit cabin), and NHK is working out of SS20. PGA TOUR Entertainment is using two trucks from LMG.
As usual, NBC is stepping up coverage of the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes. A time-lapse camera located under the 16th-green camera tower offers shots of the massive crowd’s descent onto the area throughout the day; a flanker camera between the 16th green and 17th tee offers tight reaction shots of players and a wide shot of the green; a super-slo-mo camera shoots reactions on the island green at 300 fps; a handheld is located behind the 17th for a reverse shot; and a hard camera behind the 18th tee can be turned around to get shots of the crowd around the 17th hole. Added into the mix are shots from a camera in the bunker at 17, the Cablecam, a blimp, five RF handheld cameras, and handheld Inertia Unlimited X-Mo slo-mo systems.
“We also have a camera crane that can go 120 ft. in the air and get a look at the second shot on 16 and can also provide a tee-to-green overview of the entire 17th hole that the blimp can’t get,” says Beard. “It shows the whole spectrum of the stadium area.”
At the 17th hole, use of the Protracer system, which allows producer Tommy Roy and his team to display the ball’s flight path, has been expanded. Three Protracers are in use: one behind the tee, another on the camera tower behind the green, and a third mounted on the scoreboard, located to the left of the green.
Pinpoint (Wind) Accuracy
Another big addition to the Players coverage this year is improved wind-speed and -direction data courtesy of Pinpoint, a UK-based company that takes measurement to the next level with sensors measuring direction and speed ultrasonically.
“[The sensors] provide a reading every .25 seconds,” explains Simon Roper, visualization director, Pinpoint. “That allows us to show genuine real-time wind measurements. The system has been used by the British Olympic sailing team,” he adds, “so it is state-of-the-art robust technology that we will also have at the [British] Open Championship in July.”
The 6-in.-wide ultrasound wind devices have two circles lined up vertically and 3 in. apart. At the bottom of the top circle and at the top of the bottom circle are four nodes that emit an ultrasound wave. As the wind passes between the two circles. the sound waves move depending on the speed and direction of the wind, and that movement is measured and translated into wind direction and speed.
“On the 17th hole,” says Roper, “we have one unit at the tee box and another that is above the hospitality side of the 17th hole, so we can see what the wind is like above the stadium.”
The wind data can be matched up with replay video so that, if, for example, the ball is hit long or short of the green and ends in the water, the replay allows viewers to see how the wind impacted ball flight.
The Pinpoint system’s advanced technology offers some solid advantages over the traditional wind-cup measurement tool and enable wind averages to be measured over a period of time. For example, with the cup system, if the wind is blowing at 30 mph one second, 10 mph the next, and then back to 20 mph, the 10-mph reading won’t register because the cups never had a chance to slow down to 10 mph. The arrow that shows wind direction will also overcorrect compared with the Pinpoint system.
News Coverage Abounds
Marc Caputo, senior director, news remotes, NBC Sports, has been onsite with his team since early in the week because Golf Channel’s Morning Drive show has been broadcasting live since Tuesday morning.
“They have 14 cameras of their own as well as pool cameras for coverage of the Media Center and quick quotes outside the scoring tent,” he notes. Four of those cameras are on the 17th hole, and there are also cameras at the practice areas.
“We’re out at 7 a.m. watching the players practice,” he adds. “There is also Protracer technology at the driving range so the analysts can see what kind of shots the players are working on.”
Also on hand are two LiveU transmission packs that feed signals to the Golf Channel facility in Orlando.
“The news team is also doing work for international programming in China and Japan,” says Caputo. “Part of our responsibility is to handle work for the regionals, live hits for The Weather Channel, and even CNBC as the drama builds.”