NBC Goes To Great Lengths For Coverage of Extra-Long U.S. Open
By Carolyn Braff
The links at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, CA, the site of this weekend’s U.S. Open Championship, mark the longest course in Open history, so for its 16 hours of high definition event coverage – the first-ever scheduled in primetime – NBC is bringing in 18 extra cameras, enough to cover the 7,643 yards of action from every possible angle.
“As opposed to a typical PGA Tour event, where we usually have 30 cameras, we have 48 this week,” explains Tommy Roy, longtime golf producer for NBC. “That’s because driving is such an important part of this. The outcomes are often based on how well the players drive the ball, so we have to spend much more time on tee shots.”
Aiding that emphasis on driving will be the Protracer system, which NBC will once again utilize after a successful implementation at the Players’ Championship. Protracer highlights the flight and trajectory of each player’s shot, which will be immensely helpful on a course that includes five par 4s of more than 460 yards and a few longer than 500.
For Roy, however, the biggest challenge to producing an event on this course was not its length or varied terrain, but rather its history.
“I had a real concern about playing the Open at this course,” Roy says. “Most of the time, the U.S. Open takes place at a historic venue that had a mystique about it, so the golf course becomes a co-star to the players in our broadcast. With America just seeing this golf course five months ago [at the Buick Invitational], I had a little bit of a concern as to how this was going to fit into our telecast. But after coming here and seeing what the USGA has done to liven up the course, Torrey Pines looks different now, and it’s a good look.”
Roy explains that the greens are a different color than they were in January and his 48 cameras will truly make the colors pop.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to put our cameras in locations that show off that beauty,” Roy says.
The original plan was to also go to great heights, as Roy intended to recruit one of the hang gliders at the nearby Torrey Pines International Glider Port to run a camera for NBC. That idea did not get off the ground, as the hang gliding port will be closed for the duration of the Open, but NBC will instead get low for this broadcast.
“We do have a camera down at lake level at 18, on the bank in front of the green,” Roy explains. “If a ball barely trickles off that green, it’s going down to the water. If NASCAR has a gopher cam, I guess that’s our frog cam.”
Adding to the challenge of this broadcast is the unusual combination of grasses in the rough, which is as tough to play through as it is to convey on television.
“We have something in mind that you’ll see on-air that we hope will depict it a little bit,” Roy says of showing viewers just how rough the rough can get.
Aside from the site-specific challenges of this weekend’s event coverage, NBC’s production team faces some outreach challenges, as well. This year’s Open is the first scheduled primetime broadcast of the event (past events have concluded in primetime due to weather conditions), so the network is expecting a slightly different audience than the normal golf-savvy set.
“The later we go into the evening, the more diverse audience we will have,” Roy says, “maybe people who don’t always watch golf on Sunday afternoons. We need to keep that in mind, that we’re speaking to an audience that may need a few more things explained to them.”
With 48 cameras providing every detail of every swing from 3:00pm Thursday until 9:00pm on Sunday, that audience should have plenty of opportunity for explanation.