Fox Sports’ U.S. Open Audio Goes Deep (in the Ground)
New Golf Hole Mic, reconfigured team make sonically exciting show
Fox Sports’ golf strategy at this year’s U.S. Open (June 14-17) has a number of new elements, ranging from redeployment of troops on the ground to the latest iteration of the Golf Hole Mic, which is designed to listen in on golfers and caddies discussing strategy and also capture additional natural sound.
A1 Joe Carpenter is overseeing a reconfigured staff, with submixers Bob Qua and Jay Willis mixing effects in tandem instead of tag-teaming that function as usual: one works the tee as the other prepares for the subsequent shot. In addition, six onsite subcontrol rooms, dedicated to three or four holes each, are working the tape delays that alternate with the live shots to provide seamless and continuous action for viewers. Six Calrec Brio compact consoles feed the main pair of Apollo mix desks, all connected via a Hydra2 network. It’s an arrangement that allows opportunities to catch any audio glitches or misses, in the rare event that they occur, before they air, a process supervised by Matt Rossetti.
That’s a look ahead that Carpenter calls the show’s “crystal ball,” one necessary to keep a complex show running at this heightened pace. “It’s pretty impressive,” he says. “It’s like six mini shows going on.”
He adds that this year’s tournament at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, given its sprawl and the distance between towers and the gallery, is a good test of this arrangement; if not for the Golf Hole Mics, several holes would be covered only by a few distant shotguns.
It also makes for a huge number of individual signal paths; Carpenter reports that he’s managing more than 600 TDM pathways between an Evertz EMR audio TDM router and Calrec’s Hydra2 network. “It’s pretty insane, but the amount of audio coverage is incredible this year. This is what we’ve been building towards.”
Ace in the Hole
Fox Sports deployed the new version of the Golf Hole Mic for the U.S. Women’s and Seniors’ Open the preceding week, fine-tuning this broader application of a revamped product. For the first time, Golf Hole Mics are placed in all 18 holes on the course at Shinnecock. Thirty-six are on hand, rotating through the five-day tournament, with one set recharged as the greens keepers bring the other set in for recharging.
The Quantum5X-developed mic has come a long way since its first appearance at the 2015 U.S. Open. Back then, a combination of water and form-factor issues made for a bumpy debut. According to Q5X CEO Paul Johnson, in the current version of the Golf Hole Mic, a waterproof 3D-printed insert houses the transmitter beneath the actual cast-aluminum golf cup. An integrated antenna and a Countryman B6 mic element at the upper lip of the insert pick up audio from several yards around the hole.
Course-wide wireless-system management is done by Professional Wireless Systems (PWS). The Golf Hole Mic has remotely controlled level and battery management: once a unit is in place, it doesn’t need to be touched until the end of each day’s play, when all are collected for recharging.
“One of the big challenges of putting a microphone and transmitter into a golf hole is water,” notes Johnson. “This version of the Golf Hole Mic is engineered as a single unit that keeps moisture out of the electrical components while still letting it drain out of the hole and also keeping any elements out of the way of the ball.”
Scheduling the Women’s Open ahead of the men’s championship provided good opportunities to fine-tune the use of the Golf Hole Mics, according to Brad Cheney, VP, field operations and engineering, Fox Sports. The 10 inches of rain that the course received during those rounds proved the new design’s moisture-resistance, and the approximately 50-ft. audio-capture radius is giving viewers insights into player strategies.
“All of those [earlier] rounds tend to be quieter, so we can pick up a lot more of what’s being said on the greens,” he says, noting that neither microphones nor cameras are permitted on greens during play. “The mics in the holes give us the sound we’ve never had before.” All the shows are on a five-second delay controlled at Fox Sports’ Los Angeles broadcast facility.
Cheney says that, with so many wireless microphones — the additional Golf Hole Mics did not eliminate any of the other wireless mics the network usually deploys for golf shows, including 18 shotgun and nine announcer roaming mics, provided by CP Communications — the main challenge was “the sheer abundance. Most of it is in the 1.4 GHz range, and PWS is keeping the [Golf Hole Mics’] antennas highly directional, so we’re able to do the whole thing with between nine and 15 frequencies.” Some frequencies are duplicated because there is sufficient distance between locations.
Antenna configuration and direction are critical to maximizing the microphone’s capabilities, according to Jim Van Winkle, GM, PWS, which partnered with Q5X on the Golf Hole Mic’s development and supervises its deployment. Both helical and high-gain antennae located on two camera towers are used, pointed directly at the subterranean transducers. Winkle, who is working remotely with Project Manager Kasey Gchachu onsite, says deployment so far has been “drama-free.” The relative local emptiness of the 1.4 MHz RF range, he adds, helps get the Golf Hole Mic’s signals clearly to the Shure UR4D receivers.
“We’ve had only one bad frequency, and we were able to work around it,” he explains. “Otherwise, we’re just keeping an eye on gain and levels.”
Produced out of Game Creek’s Encore truck, GC Pride and Maverick handling the course’s three digital feeds, with three B units for support, the broadcast has one other new wrinkle. Audio Engineers Dana Kirkpatrick and Mark Butler form a “QC team,” providing what Cheney calls the equivalent of a second set of ears on the broadcast sound. They listen in on all the various feeds from all microphone inputs across the course (nine submixers are working the effects on the show), offer suggestions on such matters as level and EQ, and monitor mic placement and other aspects of the sound audio plot.
Cheney, who credits Carpenter with the idea of applying a second level of monitoring for golf, says the concept will be evaluated after the tournament and possibly applied to other broadcasts. “There are a lot of good things that are coming out of this show.”