Golf Lets Listeners in a Little Deeper With PlayerMics

Q5X PlayerMics are deployed for crowdless matches

Rescheduled and resumed, PGA play is getting a new level of intimacy, thanks to the addition of microphones on the golfers broadcast in real time for the first time by CBS Sports.

For the Charles Schwab Challenge, originally scheduled for May 21-24 but postponed to June 11-14, golfers wore Q5X PlayerMics, supplied by rental vendor BSI via Professional Wireless Systems. Four additional microphone units that PWS had shipped in by Q5X ahead of the tournament were also used for last week’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, CT, and will be deployed for this weekend’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit.

“This is a new application for the PlayerMic,” says Q5X CEO Paul Johnson, noting that the lack of an audience has created a sonic gap in the production sound. “What’s also different is that the microphones are being broadcast live from the golf courses. It helps you get up close to the golfers.”

Very close. During the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, as Jon Rahm swung on a chip on the eighth that rolled into the hole for a birdie, golfer Brooks Koepka uttered a decidedly NSFW gerund that was picked up clearly, eliciting an on-air apology from announcer Jim Nantz.

“Well, we were hoping for better audio with no fans surrounding the course,” Nantz said. “Apologize if anyone was offended by what they may have heard there.”

The PGA is using the larger version of the microphone/transmitter package that Q5X had developed for the NBA, which is expected to use the PlayerMic when the league resumes play at the end of July at Disney’s Wide World of Sports arena in Orlando. Johnson says the NHL is expected to do the same once hockey resumes play.

The company also makes the Golf Hole Mic, which places a microphone and transmitter in the bottom of the golf-cup assembly. It has been deployed by Fox Sports to pick up banter between golfers and their caddies as they strategize short games. None are being deployed for the CBS Sports broadcasts.

“The PlayerMic used by the NBA is smaller because they can use a four-hour battery,” Johnson explains. “NHL and golf need the larger, eight-hour batteries. But, in every case, the transmitters are designed so that A2s can attach them to basketball jerseys or other uniforms before the athletes put them on, which minimizes the interaction between them.”

Robert Weeks, remote operations supervisor, BSI, was onsite for the recent PGA tour stops. He explained how the production team managed the PlayerMic’s lower-power transmitter output across 18 holes. It puts out about 50 mW, a quarter to a fifth of the output of the usual larger Sennheiser transmitters, on a 1.4-GHz frequency. To boost the signal enough to reach BSI’s base stations around the course, a signal repeater aboard a golf cart stays within 100 yards or so of the miked golfers, picking up the PlayerMic signals, amplifying them, and sending them on.

“After that, those signals become part of the overall wireless infrastructure we build for golf,” says Weeks. To minimize contact between the players and the A2s who deliver the transmitters to them, he says, BSI developed a small pouch that attach to golfers’ belts via Velcro strip to hold the Q5X transmitters.

COVID-Ready Devices
That’s especially important now, during the pandemic. Johnson notes that the transmitters are easy to sanitize by wipe-down with an alcohol-based solution. Once sanitized, they can be placed in a sealed bag and left in standby mode until needed for the broadcast.

“And all of their operations [on/off, volume control, and other functions] can be achieved through the Remote Control Audio System,” he adds. “The A2 doesn’t need to touch the transmitter again. The RCAS probably makes this the safest implementation of bodypacks possible in the industry.”

The NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB have rules for player-worn microphones encoded in their respective collective-bargaining agreements. However, the PGA — essentially owned by its nearly 29,000 golfer-members themselves — leaves it up to each individual golfer to decide whether to wear a transmitter and microphone.

“That has been the challenge over the last few years, getting the golfers to agree to wear the microphone,” says Johnson. “Some are fine with the concept; others not so much. We did extensive testing with the PGA, starting in 2012, to make sure the bodypacks were comfortable and provided all the safety needed. But each individual golfer has to ask, Are they comfortable with having my audio captured? That’s a personal choice.”

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