From Hardwood to Georgia Grass: CBS Is Ready for the Masters

Augusta National is abuzz today for what is being called one of the more highly anticipated Masters in recent years. And yet the popular topic heading into the week was flowers. Yes, flowers; more specifically, Augusta’s iconic azaleas, which will likely be a no-show because the unseasonably warm winter and early arrival of spring in Georgia forced them to bloom early.

CBS Sports’ production team is brushing off the aesthetic concerns.

“I think that everybody would love to see the flowers, but one thing that we have no control over is Mother Nature,” says Lance Barrow, coordinating producer, CBS Golf. “Like everywhere in the country, it has been a warm spring and winter, so we can’t do anything about the flowers. But I’ve been here for nearly a week, and the golf course is so green and the grass is so thick, it will still be beautiful. It is the Masters, and the golf course always stands up. Wish we had a lot of flowers, but we can’t do anything about that.”

Barrow is confident that viewers will quickly forget about the lack of blossoms once the action heats up, especially with a revitalized Tiger Woods expected to have an impact this weekend. For CBS Sports, this is widely considered the most complex and visually rewarding television productions of the year.

“It has grown into our biggest challenge and technical setup of the year,” says Harold Bryant, executive producer/VP, production, at CBS Sports. “It is as big as, if not bigger than, the Super Bowl. We have an army of people on-site. It is a challenge, but it is all in the planning. We have a great group of people planning this basically 12 months a year so that, once we get in there, it is a very smooth event.”

CBS has added a few cameras to last year’s already massive complement, pushing the total arsenal to more than 100 cameras spread across the 18 holes.

“We have added a few cameras on some of the greens,” says Barrow. “We have a new one on the golfers right by the 15th patron stands, where we can get a better view of the ball going into the water and into the bunker, which is often the case on that hole.”

CBS has deployed high-speed cameras to track balls off the tee and sprinkled robo cameras throughout the course, including one added on the 11th green by the big scoreboard.

“The biggest thing for us is one or two RF cameras mostly around the practice facility and walking with the leaders as they go to the first and 10th tees,” adds Barrow. “That has never been done here at the Masters.”

The tournament marks the second of two of the busiest weeks in sports, including last week’s NCAA Final Four, and CBS is at the center of it all, with large staffs manning both events. Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations and production services for CBS Sports, notes that, after experiencing challenges in previous years in getting staff members from the Final Four site  to the Masters, CBS chartered a flight for approximately 50 staff members to ensure prompt arrival in Augusta. Between 250 and 300 staffers will work in some capacity for CBS this weekend.

A fleet of NEP and NCP trucks will be on hand for both ESPN and CBS, which have to abide by a certain level of restrictions imposed by Augusta National.

Part of the reason the Masters has such a unique feel and sound is the intriguing rules that are applied to its broadcasters. For example, broadcasts can have only four minutes of commercials per hour, and broadcasters have to call fans “patrons” and must refer to the rough as the “second cut.”

It’s part of the charm of the first major of the golf season, one CBS hopes will cap off a pair of weeks of massive ratings.

Managing editor Jason Dachman contributed to this report.

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