Live From the U.S. Open: Months of Work Have NBC Sports Set for Final Dramatic Round
Complicating the effort is a country club split by a boulevard
It’s the final day of the U.S. Open Championship at The Los Angeles Country Club, and, for the team at NBC Sports, it marks the end of months of planning and weeks of execution to deliver a final round that has the most dramatic storylines in quite some time.
“We had weekly meetings that started in January because we knew what a challenge this course was going to be,” says NBC Sports, VP, Golf Operations, Allison McAllister. “Our team has executed amazingly. It has been a wonderful thing to see. Obviously, there are always the ‘oh, by the ways’ that pop up at a major, but we’ve been able to pivot and make it work.”
Marc Caputo, director, remote technical operations, and Bridget Cugle, director, golf operations, NBC Sports, McAllister says, have taken the lead when it comes to partnering with the USGA.
“USGA Senior Director, Broadcasting and Production, Kevin Landy is a great partner for us, along with [Senior Director, U.S. Open Championships] Reg Jones and [Senior Managing Director, U.S. Open Championships,] Jeff Hall’s teams. Everyone at the USGA has been wonderful to partner with,” she adds. “And all of our other vendors that have provided equipment to bring the 123rd U.S. Open Championship to life. With every U.S. Open, there are challenges that we must overcome. [Each tournament is] a jigsaw puzzle that we get to put together.”
NBC Sports, the USGA, and related partners had to figure out a plan to navigate a country club that has Wilshire Boulevard running right through it. The course, fans, and players are located on the north side of the street, and the TV compound is located on the south side. At the center of the compound are NEP ND7 and ND1 production trucks, supporting the NBC show, and NEP Supershooter 9, handling the Featured Groups coverage.
“There are only two small tunnels that you can use to get from one course to the other,” Cugle explains. “We had to devise a plan to figure out the best place to put everything. And we knew that pretty much everybody working on the course is not coming back to the compound during the day. So we have two small trailers on the north side that we use like a camera-ready room. The crews can drop their gear there, so they aren’t carrying it back and forth every night.”
Two NEP fiber trucks are onsite, Caputo adds, because the run from the compound to the tunnels is 1,500 ft.
NBC Sports Technical Manager Jason Abrams notes that, when the team arrived at the course in January, all they saw were open holes devoid of superstructures to work with. “Holes 1, 18, and 17 [are near the tunnel], but everything else just sprawls out from there. You can lay it out on paper, but then there is topography you have to deal with, like ravines. We needed an additional 20% of cabling to make sure we had enough.”
The combination of a remote compound and a sprawling course doesn’t just double the amount of cable needed; it increases it by multiples, according to Abrams: “The bells and whistles take up more strands, and a lot of centralized locations are dropped in between two or three holes that will connect to the fairways or to a rail cam for data, which is unique.” All told, more than 225,000 ft. of fiber cable has been laid out across the country club to deliver video, audio, and data.
Enhancing the Coverage
Key to the effort this year is taking advantage of the tight course conditions so that as many of the 81 cameras on the course as possible can cover numerous holes and locations.
“Most cameras have the ability to cover multiple holes, like our monopods,” Abrams explains. “They can be on one tower and cover the 14th fairway, 8 green, or 2 green because the 8th-green tower is on the side of a hill. The undulations allow multiple coverage from single ENG cameras.”
Also helping in the effort are two 100-ft. Scorpion cranes towering over Holes 1 and 11. At other tournaments, Caputo says, there is an opportunity to move Scorpion cranes, but the tight layout of the North Course at LACC makes that impossible.
A drone has been able to provide many unique looks on a variety of holes, flying over the course and giving viewers a much better understanding of the landscape, undulations, and elevation changes. Cugle says coverage from the drone has worked out well.
The coverage is well-planned and dialed in, Caputo adds: “It’s almost like they storyboard what they’re going to do for coverage.”
Additional specialty cameras include a bunker cams on Holes 6, 7, and 14; a Jitacam on Hole 17, capturing a reverse follow angle from the green to the tee; and a Robovision rail camera system on Hole 15, a par-3 that saw three holes in one during the first three rounds.
One of the more distinctive events at a U.S. Open in recent years occurred on the Tuesday prior to play at what is called “Little 17” at the country club. Located to the right of the 17th green, the short par-3 hole was hidden during a redesign but rediscovered in a 2010 restoration. On Tuesday, the hole was in play as part of a charity event.
“As players came off of 17,” says NBC Sports Technical Manager Sam Ruby, “they would come over and hit the shot for charity.”
Five LiveU LU600 units were used for the production that was part of Live From programming on Golf Channel. “We had two for ENG, one for live walks and talks with the players, and two covering Little 17,” Caputo says, adding that LiveU LU800 units were used for transmission.
The Live From team was on hand Monday, June 5 for “Golf’s Longest Day,” when competitors play 36 holes of qualifying golf.
“Everything was self-contained to the Live From set,” says Ruby. “We had a baby Newbert flypack there, and our whole production and technical team was on the set. It was crowded, but we had a great time.”
The main Newbert transmission flypack, located in a double-wide cabin, has been improved. “We have a new ST-2110 transmission kit that has 20 paths running this week,” notes Caputo, “but it can do up to 24.”
Other bells and whistles include three Hawkeye replay systems, helping with main coverage, and a shallow–depth-of-field camera. The latter is on a Steadicam rather than a gimbal, Caputo says, because producer Tommy Roy prefers the Steadicam look.
For the second year in a row, there is some 1080p HDR coverage: the second Featured Group each day and the Featured Holes are available in the format.
“We’ve started planning to have everything in HDR next year,” says Caputo. “That is our ultimate goal. We need to see if our vendors can meet the equipment requirements.”
New programming this year includes U.S. Open All Access Presented by Lexus, streaming exclusively on Peacock (3-8 p.m. ET Thursday through yesterday, 2-7 p.m. today). Hosted by well-known podcast host Chris Vernon and analyst and current PGA TOUR player Johnson Wagner, U.S Open All Access offers whip-around coverage that complements the traditional broadcast coverage, tapping into the main telecast, Featured Groups and Holes, and range cam and featuring a variety of contributors and analysts.
“It’s produced out of a control room in Stamford[, CT,] that is taking all the feeds we’re producing onsite,” says Caputo. “It has access to early coverage, main coverage, Feature Group 1, Feature Group 2, the Featured Holes, and Live From, and it can bounce around for whatever they want to do. They also have direct access to camera feeds and have used shots from the play as well as the Live From practice cameras.”
NBC Sports has also built two Cisco WebEx stations to integrate interviews with players and talent. One is in the production trailer for talent; the one for players is set up in the scoring area. Says Cugle, “Any of the players can stop by and do interviews after they’ve finished up.”
This year’s U.S. Open has afforded NBC Sports the opportunity to be in primetime on the East Coast for all four nights and for a record 25 hours.
“Primetime’s always great,” says Cugle, “but everything’s important to us, no matter what time zone we’re in.”
And Cugle and the rest of the team will be in a wide variety of time zones in the coming months. Next month, there is The Open Championship in Liverpool, UK, and the last week of September will see the team in Rome for the Ryder Cup. Next week is the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in New Jersey and the PGA TOUR’s Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
“We are in championship season,” notes Cugle. “We basically have something every week for the next two months.”
Below are the closing credits for this year’s main crew:
Ken Goss – EVP, Studio/Remote Operations and Production Planning
Allison McAllister – VP, Golf Operations
Bridget Cugle – Director, Golf Operations
Craig Bernstein – VP, Remote Technical Operations and Engineering
Marc Caputo – Director, Remote Technical Operations and Engineering
Tavi Wright – Senior Production Manager
Blaise Fernandez — Production Manager
Meagan Moltenbrey — Production Manager
Casey McKee –- Production Manager
Jason Abrams — Tech Manager
Adam D’Arienzo — Tech Manager
Sam Ruby — Tech Manager
Chip Adams — Tech Manager
Bryson Smith – Tech Manager
Dave Crosson — Tech Manager
Zaque Meyers — Tech Manager