NBC has long had a love affair with The Players Championship, often referring to the tournament as the fifth golf major. But this year, with NBC Sports Group’s synergized effort now in full swing, the network has more platforms and more production tools than ever to cover the action this week at TPC Sawgrass.
“In terms of our coverage, the status quo is never good enough,” says NBC Sports Golf Producer Tommy Roy. “So, since the NBC‑Comcast merger, which is our second year together, the synergies with our Golf Channel colleagues have continued to expand.”
A Single Compound
Last year, The Players took place just a few months after Comcast’s NBCU acquisition was finalized, and NBC and Golf Channel were just launching their “Golf Channel on NBC” coverage model. A year later, NBC and Golf Channel are very much on the same page and, for that matter, in the same compound. Previously, Golf Channel’s truck compound was located behind the 17th tee, about three-quarters of a mile from NBC’s. This year, Golf Channel and NBC have set up shop in the same compound near the TPC Sawgrass maintenance area.
“Now we are all in this compound here in one spot, all interconnected; we are all one family now,” says Roy. “It significantly helps the studio portion of things. They were located out in the boonies before, so to be interconnected with the trucks was an impossibility. Now they are here, we can have our meetings together, and the trucks are interconnected so they can access our tape machines and get our shots.”
Four NEP mobile-production units are on hand at the newly combined truck compound: ND-3 and SS24 (both with A, B, and C units), as well as SS16 and ST 10 for Golf Channel’s Live From The Players studio show. The quartet of trucks is handling 22 hours of live tournament coverage (with limited commercial interruption) on NBC and Golf Channel over the next four days, as well as 54 hours of wraparound news programming on Golf Channel throughout this week.
No. 17 Once Again the Belle of the Ball
NBC has deployed a total of 49 cameras throughout TPC Sawgrass, highlighted once again by the army of cameras on hand to cover the 17th hole and its famed island green. An event-record 12 HD cameras are scattered across the par 3, including lipstick-size camera embedded in the lip of the tiny front bunker and two “periscope cams.” The periscope cams sit atop two pipes anchored to the bottom of the pond, allowing the cameras to rotate 360 degrees and providing a green-high view of the hole.
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 and operate a super-slo-mo camera.
“[Hole] 17 is the star of the show here. Whenever you’re producing, you try to go to a commercial when the leaders are walking,” says Roy. “But, with [the limited commercial interruption] here, we only have four one-minute breaks per hour. So there are many times that the leaders are walking between shots and you would normally find yourself scrambling for something to show. That’s not a problem here, though, because I can always go to whoever is standing on the tee at 17 and it’s interesting, even if it’s the guy in last place.”
ActionCam Jumps Into Action at 17
The most notable addition to 17 this year is the ActionCam point-to-point aerial camera system. The system spans about 600 ft. from point to point. It is anchored near the 16th green and on the hill just behind the 17th green, allowing it to fly over the lake between the two holes. In addition to providing aerial shots of 17, the ActionCam also covers the second half of the 16th hole.
“One of the things that Tommy Roy wanted out of this was to get some really good coverage of 16 because he didn’t have anything from that angle,” says ActionCam President P.J. Bennett. “So one of our biggest shots will be the player walking along the fairway up to the 16th green and then shooting his putt from the water side. Then we can walk him from there right to the 17th tee.”
The ActionCam is also providing live beauty shots of No. 17 for Live From The Players all week.
CP Fiber All Over Sawgrass
CP Communications has laid nearly 120,000 ft. of fiber for NBC and 50,000 ft. for Golf Channel to provide connectivity for cameras, mics, and announce booths throughout the course. CP has rolled out its RF-6 and RF-7 trucks to serve as signal transport hubs, along with the HD-5 for the PGA’s international feed.
“This event is even bigger than the U.S. Open,” says Kurt Heitmann, SVP of sales and marketing, CP Communications. “This is the biggest NBC gets for golf all year long, and we fiber the entire course for them. We do everything external from the compound, as far as signal flow goes.”
Even More Toys
Other specialty cameras include a robotic POV camera at the first tee and a multicamera system at the No. 5 tee box to create Matrix-style 360-degree replays of tee shots. The system deploys an array of cameras, takes freeze frames of the swing, and creates a digital 360-degree image within three seconds for replay.
Both networks will also feature ProTracer technology, which tracks the flight of the golf ball off tee shots and graphically displays it in replays.
Golf Channel’s Live From The Players will use a super-slow-mo camera for its news coverage, instead of sharing one with the live telecast as it has in years past. The show will also feature computer-generated aerial shots of TPC Sawgrass that are compatible with the PGA’s ShotLink statistics system.
Golf Channel will offer live coverage of The Players Championship from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday along with wraparound news coverage throughout the week. NBC will air its live coverage 2-7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.