At PGA Championship, CBS Sports Bolsters Aerial, Bunker Camera Lineup; Takes Viewers Deeper with Optimotion Swing Tech

Operational effort features more than 125 cameras, 150 microphones, and robust real-time graphics

Golf’s second major of the year is underway and CBS Sports is bringing one of its biggest live production efforts ever this week to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville for the 106th PGA Championship.

This marks the 34th consecutive year and the 41st time overall that CBS Sports has led the broadcast production efforts for the PGA Championship and this year’s operation is an impressive one. More than 125 cameras, 150 microphones, and 600 crew members cover the course while deep tracking and graphics technology better tell the story in the network’s wall-to-wall coverage.

“I’m so proud of our golf team. They truly think they set the standard in the industry,” says David Berson, the newly-minted President and CEO of CBS Sports (he takes over following the retirement of Sean McManus at The Masters). “I don’t think that our golf coverage has ever been better than it is today. I’m just really thrilled with the coverage we have.”

Graphics Put the Viewer First

While ESPN broadcasts and streams coverage on the first two days of the tournament, coverage shifts over to CBS Television Network and Paramount+ for the push to finish on Saturday and Sunday. On the linear broadcast, data-filled real-time graphics continue to revolutionize coverage of live golf.

An example of CBS Sports’ work in implementing OptiMotion technology into the broadcast from earlier this year.

One of the new highlights for this PGA Championship is the use of GOLFTEC OptiMotion Swing Analysis Technology. First implemented by CBS Sports during its PGA Tour West Coast Swing earlier this year, the visual breaks down swing dynamics for the viewer. Lead analyst Trevor Immelman presents biomechanical swing data on elements like hip turn and shoulder tilt. It also helps comparing and contrasting between golfers.

CBS loves the technology as it allows its coverage to lean into the educational aspect of viewers looking to improve their own golf swing.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface on the data, and so the old line of ‘the sky’s the limit’ applies in this case,” says CBS Sports lead golf producer Sellers Shy. “It not only helps the viewer understand the player’s swing, but Trevor is also working very hard in having it relate to the viewer at home. That’s what their goal is: to help the casual fan and the extreme golfer; both ends of the handicap spectrum. [We are] trying to help their swings out. Trevor really adds to the data that we’ve seen because it can be a challenge to put in layman’s terms.”

Mike Francis, VP, Engineering and Technology, CBS Sports noted that the operations team used GOLFTEC OptiMotion Swing Analysis on the driving range during coverage of The Masters last month. It’s also been utilized across significant PGA Tour events this season.

That’s just the new star in a robust graphics effort designed to better tell the story of live golf. The modern mainstay, TopTracer, is at Valhalla on all 18 holes and even the practice facility. The 3D radar tracking system provides viewer with an accurate visual representation of distance, height, and curvature of a shot in realtime. Additionally, Toptracer is outfitted on four RF mini cameras to add versatility to ball tracking graphics. These allow for the show to get select TopTracer graphics on second and third shots from the fairway.

Additionally, CBS Sports is deploying ARL Virtual Eye Side Slab Flight Track. This virtual eye technology leverages Toptracer ball tracking on tee shots to provide an overhead slab view of the hole. Available on all 18 holes, the offering also brings back full page displays detailing how golfers played certain holes during previous rounds with virtual flyover animations.

Over the past decade, these graphical enhancements have proven to be critical storytelling tools for CBS Sports’ Executive Producer and EVP, Production Harold Bryant, Shy and fellow producer Jim Rikhoff, and directors Steve Milton and Rob Matina.

Aerial, Bunker, Cinematic Cameras Deliver the Images

The last time this major visited Valhalla was in 2014 and since then the course has undergone a significant renovation. That offers some new visual storytelling opportunities for CBS Sports. The back nine will surely become a star of the show, most notably the par-5 18th hole. CBS Sports has run one of its FlyCams along the green area at 18, as well as laying BunkerCams in the sand.

The end of a FlyCam run at Valhalla Golf Club for this weekend’s PGA Championship. (Photo Courtesy CBS Sports)

“They redid it through and through,” says Shy. “It has a gorgeous new, fresh appearance. We also are taking what we learned from the previous championships there, specifically in 2014, and enhancing those areas. You’re going to see a lot of activity around 13, 14, and 18 because it’s going to be a popular place. 13 is in our logo. 14 is an incredible par three with bunkers all the way around. Then 18 is a par-five finish, which you don’t normally see. There’s been extreme preparation put into this week and we’re ready.”

Aerial coverage will inevitably shine at a golf event like this. FlyCam has also been rigged above the 13th green and 14th tee. There will also be live drones (from Kaze Aerial Production) and the iconic Goodyear Blimp taking the skies.

Shallow depth-of-field “cinematic” looks also continue to grow in popularity as part of the CBS Sports golf production plan. A full Steadicam will shoot in the mode while two of the network’s Atlas cameras (smaller handheld devices) will also roam the course on RF.

Down in the dirt, BunkerCams continue to improve and expand. The 360-degree cameras offer unique vantage points from the 14th and 18th holes.

For scenic and establishing shots, CBS has put out what it is calling Falcon 360, an immersive 360-degree camera offering panoramic views of Valhalla.

“Our coverage here has evolved quite a bit since that last time 10 years ago,” says Francis. “We’ve basically approached this with a fresh set of eyes. We have new technical leadership, we have new production leadership since we’ve been here last, so this really is a first look for us.”

Francis helps run operations alongside CBS Sports’ EVP, Operations & Engineering Patty Power; SVP, Remote Technical Operations Jason Cohen; VP, Remote Operations Kristen Florian; VP, Broadcast Operations Scott Davis; and VPs of Engineering Greg Coppa and Dan LaTerra.

BSI and Fletcher are delivering specialty cameras and RF technologies to cover the action more effectively.

Walk-and-Talks Highlight Audio Plan

For a big broadcast weekend, CBS Sports is bringing in the big guns at the audio front. One of the industry’s all-time greats, Joe Carpenter, is the lead audio engineer on this weekend’s operation.

While elements like the strike of the ball and the roar of the crowd are the basic goals of the 150 plus microphones strewn about the course, increasingly, on-course conversation has become a focus of live coverage. Extra stationary parabolic microphones have been strategically around the grounds to capture golfer-caddie conversations. Additionally, CBS will again implement its popular earbud-based “Walk and Talk” segment that allows golfers to participate in live interviews with the announce team as they walk to their next shot.

“[Joe] is always trying to find the perfect placement to not only pick up the effects sounds, but also get in there with a really good player and caddy audio,” says Francis. “We find that a lot of the compelling stuff is the back and forth that goes on when guys are trying to work out a shot or how they’re going to play something.”

5G Makes PGA Championship Debut

An exciting addition to this year’s plan includes the deployment of private 5G for broadcast. It’s a bit of history as T-Mobile debuts its 5G Advanced Network Solutions (ANS) with PGA of America to leverage golf’s first 5G private network in the U.S. At the 13th hole, CBS Sports will take advantage of fiber-like data transmission speeds for broadcast quality video.

T-Mobile is also working directly with the PGA of America on a new pre-championship show called T5G Range. T-Mobile’s 5G private network and 5G cameras will be used to produce an up-close look at golfers on the practice range.

Experience on the Course and In the Compound

While there are plenty of new elements to the course, there are plenty of familiar faces and vendors at Valhalla for this production. One of the key golf storylines entering this weekend is Rory McIlroy. The last time the popular golfer won a major was in the PGA Championship when it was here at Valhalla in 2014. Many members of the crew this weekend where there for that. In fact, the institutional knowledge of this crew is a significant strength in the eyes of Shy.

Aerial shots from FlyCam, drones, and the Goodyear Blimp will play critical roles in CBS Sports’ coverage of the PGA Championship. (Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports)

“There are a lot of people, including in our production and ops teams, that covered ’96 and also covered Tiger in 2000 and Roaring in 2014,” he says. “I think experience, number one, is what helps us go into a Major Championship right in the middle of our extensive run and succeed.

That experienced group includes a strong operations unit featuring Senior Director, Remote Engineering & Planning Craig Stevens, Senior Director, Venue Engineering & Planning Evelyn Jackson, Senior Director, Remote Technical Operations Adam Stouter, Senior Director, Broadcast Operations Alyssa Blake, Senior Director, Remote Operations Crewing and Planning Sue Brown, Director, Broadcast Operations George Dimotheris, and Director, Production Management Daniel Kopilnick. Chris Svendsen and Bryan Kosowski serve as replay producers.

The big production compound at Valhalla is anchored by mobile facilities from Game Creek Video, NEP Group, and F&F Productions. Game Creek’s Prime A, B, C, and D units are supporting the primary linear broadcast, particularly supporting television coverage of the back nine over the weekend. NEP Group is also here with Supershooter CBS A, B, C, D, and CT1. TFC and TFC Compound Connect are being used here, as well.

The crew is also fueled by a team of Field Technical Managers in Michael Aagaard, Dan Beard, Nicolas Cap, Russel Cunningham, DJ Driscoll, Rick Godwin, Scott Gorsuch, Sarah Hammond, Shane Hibbs, David Husney, Pete Kallander, Kevin Manual, Warren Palmer, Amanda Rikard, Kevin Wang, Gary Weiss, and Jerry Wetzel.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters