Live From the U.S. Open: USGA’s Kevin Landy on the 2022 World Feed Efforts and the Future of Production
It was early Friday afternoon at The Country Club in Brookline, MA when I had a chance to catch up with Kevin Landy, USGA, senior director, broadcasting, and production. And while dozens of golfers were on the course being covered by dozens of cameras everyone was keeping one eye on the course and another on an approaching storm.
“The weather is absolutely key,” he says. “If you can get off to a good Thursday, even if you have bad weather on Friday, you can still get back on schedule by Saturday if it’s not a total washout. But there’s absolutely nothing you can do except react and be prepared to go from twosomes to threes if necessary to stay on schedule because the networks aren’t sitting around waiting for you.”
Thankfully the storm missed Brookline and, with exception of a few sprinkles, the 122nd U.S. Open Championship heads into moving day with a chill in the air, winds in the upper teens, and promises of, yes, plenty of moving on the leaderboard. And Landy says the efforts by NBC Sports have been rock solid when it comes to telling the story of this year’s championship.
“The NBC show, with the drones, side slabs with tracer, regular tracer, pinpoint, and putting graphics…they really brought their A game,” he says. “And it’s just wonderful to have that coincide with what has been some great buildup to this event that hopefully will translate into good ratings and, more importantly, great golf on a fabulous golf course.”
Landy says live drone shots promise to be an exciting addition to the coverage.
“NBC golf director Joe Martin has been fantastic at integrating live drones and that’s not easy to do because you always have to know what the situation is and whether it’s too close to a player or spectators,” he says. “But over the next three days you’ll ss many beautiful shots as they’re going through trees and they’re going over ponds.”
Those newer tools, like the use of drones and the Fly Cam near the 18th green are the kind of things that only a few years ago would cause consternation among the host club and its members. But increasingly they understand what those technologies mean not only to viewers but how those viewers feel about the club.
“Members get excited because it makes the course look so grand with that simple movement that is so cinematic,” says Landy of the Fly Cam. “That and the jib cameras and SteadiCams to me are what gives an event that A+ feeling. And the Country Club has been so thankful and grateful to us for all the things that we’re doing, the way we look on the air, and that’s all credit to NBC because they do a hell of a job.”
The on-course production includes not only the NBC production team but also other rights holders and even documentary crews.
“We’ve got a lot of people here, as you know, with two featured groups in the morning and afternoon and we’ve got a featured holes group,” he says. “And at the same time, we also have a crew from Vox Media who are shooting the PGA version of Formula One’s Drive to Survive. So, we’ve got tons of cameras on the course.”
Landy and his team oversee the world feed which will be distributed to more than 190 territories and countries around the world. The world feed is always a complicated dance as the production team can’t simply lean into covering golfers from one country the way that NBC Sports and Sky Sports can. U.S Open World Feed Producer Ray Jacobs also produces the Masters and PGA Championship world feed and U.S. Open World Feed Director Emmet Loughran also works alongside Jacobs on the PGA Championship.
“I’ve got two guys who are used to producing and directing golf and, more pointedly, a world feed which is an art,” says Landy. “We strive to, to be a vanilla telecast and by vanilla, I don’t mean bland. I mean it allows multiple countries to consume it and enjoy it by putting their own language on it.”
When the field is set for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open one consideration is time zones so that viewers back home will have a chance to see their home nation’s golfers.
“We look for golfers from Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand, or South Africa and are keen on covering those guys in the hours that translate to those territories,” says Landy. “We want to show the leaders but when NBC Sports go to an American that isn’t near the lead, we like to get off their feed and show our international players. We feel that that makes our world feed something that is desirable when we sell these rights.”
From a production standpoint the world feed will have a couple of its own Top Tracing units and its own mini-graphical leaderboard.
“We’ve actually added a couple of Top Tracing units this year, so there’s theoretically more tracers on the air and I think that golf viewers expect that now,” he says. “They also expect that mini leaderboard that has Fox originally initiated with constant updates. It’s just standard operating procedure for any good golf event.”
The Country Club first hosted the U.S. Open in 1913, making it one of the oldest properties to host the U.S. Open. Those older properties are often smaller properties and that can make it challenging to bring in a TV production and large crowds that were unforeseen more than 100 years ago.
“The biggest challenge that we faced this week was when we were here on Monday as getting carts and people through the pinch points of one tee and 18 green was taking about 20 minutes,” he says. “Our guys worked very hard overnight Monday to create a new routing system.”
NEP is the facilities provider for both NBC and the USGA and Landy says that has made a difference.
“There are more facilities and more people that all work for the same group, so we avoid a lot of issues that may occur if we had a different deal than NBC,” he says. “The USGA’s relationship with NEP has been really strong and they do so much for us.”
As for the future, like any host broadcast organization around the globe Landy and the USGA are taking a hard look at distributed production that can shrink the compound footprint.
“We’re hoping to do that and we’re also talking about doing the same thing for the Women’s U.S. Open,” he says. “We’re also talking about every shot, every hole but that’s much harder for us to do. Augusta and the Players Championship can do it because they’re at the same course every year. It’s a little more cost prohibitive for us, but I think the technologies are such that we’re starting to see that there’s light at the end of the tunnel and maybe we can do it.”
All the efforts, both present and future, take a solid team and Landy credits Dave Giancola, USGA, assistant director of broadcasting and production, as playing a big part in the successful planning and execution.
“He toils, endlessly, building the relationships between the USGA and NBC production personnel,” says Landy. “He goes through everything with a fine-tooth comb because we have a specific look, and our sponsorships are very important to have executed correctly. He also develops and executes the Trophy Ceremonies for the USGA, including the one here on Sunday. He’s beloved by everybody here.”