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With New Sight Lines, Expect a Great Wide Open

When golf fans tune in to NBC and the Golf Channel for the 145th Open Championship in Scotland July 14- 17, they will be treated to nearly 50 hours of live tournament coverage, highlight specials, encore presentations and live streaming, via NBC Sports Live Extra and Golf Live Extra. They will also get new viewpoints, new graphics and an unprecedented look at the tournament, using technologies that have previously been reserved for other sports. Tommy Roy, executive producer for NBC Sports and Golf Channel, charged with pulling off the Open for broadcast, chatted with Next TV contributing editor—technology Chris Tribbey about what fans can expect. An edited transcript follows.

NTV:What new technologies will you be employing when you bring the Open Championship to NBC and Golf Channel viewers?
Tommy Roy: One of the story lines is weather, and on our recent Florida and Texas swing we had a wind detection device that not only shows which direction it’s coming from, but also the miles per hour. At the Players Championship [May 12-15], on the 17th hole, the island green with a par 3, we had a device that at the apex of the ball’s flight would show the wind and how it was going to affect the ball. We also had a device down on the tee where the players are hitting from, showing what they were feeling [with the wind], and it was pretty funny because with all the wind swirls around, what the players were feeling was different from the actual flight of the ball.

We’ve been preparing for this. At the Honda Classic [Feb. 25-28] we had three devices spread across the course to see not only what direction the wind was going, but also how it changes in gusts at different parts of the course, and we’re going to be doing the same thing at the Open. We’re going to have five devices [for the Open] and they don’t just use anemometers, they use ultrasound to pick up wind speed and direction. It’s extraordinarily precise.

And for the 8th hole over there [at the Open]—the “Postage Stamp,” only 120 yards, with a tiny green and the wind usually [blowing toward the player], surrounded by five bunkers—we’re going to have remote, POV bunker cams in each of those bunkers, and a wire cam going the distance from the tee all the way past the green, so we can really give viewers a sense of just how difficult this short little hole is for the greatest players in the world. It should prove to be a pretty significant part of our coverage.

We’ll also be using something tennis has used for years. For the U.S. [tennis] Open, when a ball is hit and they can’t determine whether it’s in or out, they go to a device, which virtually shows where the ball landed, and the device that does that is called Hawk-Eye, based in England, and we’ve got them helping us out. The thing that’s different with golf over [in Europe], links golf, because of the nature of the course, a player on the PGA Tour here in the states hits a shot to the green, right next to the hole, and can get it to stop. Over there, you can’t do that. If you’re playing downwind, and it lands right next to the hole, it’s going to bounce right over the green. Instead, you have to land it right short of the green—sometimes 30 yards short of the green. We’re going to use [tennis’] Hawk-Eye device to precisely show, in replay form, how many yards short of the green a ball will land, to put a target virtually on the hole, and have a read-out to show just how far short of the green it landed. It’s something new that will be part of the story of what links golf is all about over there.

NTV:Almost 50 hours of live coverage of the tournament. Why not make it a challenge this time around?
TR: Yeah, really. It’s going to be fun. In terms of overview, for our Golf Channel and NBC team it’s great to have an opportunity to televise a major championship again, and it’s really important for us. For me personally, my dad was a golf pro, his dad was from Scotland, who immigrated west. For me to have a chance to head back over there and produce this championship quite frankly means everything to me. We’re excited.

NTV:Walk us through some of the production challenges you’re facing, in order to make this run smoothly.
TR: Logistically, doing any event on the other side of the pond, is a challenge, especially one this size. We’re going to have 44 of our own cameras there, while the Royal & Ancient [R&A] golf association, the governing body of the Open Championship, they’ve hired the world feed broadcaster European Tour Productions. We have a good history with European Tour Productions, because when we do the Ryder Cup in Europe, they do the feed, with us sharing facilities, and when the Ryder Cup is here in the United States, they share our facilities. We’ve been working together through the years, and this should all go well.

NTV:I hear you’re prepping a new graphics package for the Open. What can viewers expect? What will we see different this time around?
TR: When you do an event of this magnitude, you have to come up with a new graphics package, to distinguish from what you’ve done and what others are doing. So yes, we have a new graphics package, very sharp, that takes into account some of the iconic images that take place at an Open championship. We tested it at the [May 24- 29] Senior PGA Championship where we had an extra chyron that was going long, calling up all the same graphics that we were using on the air, but instead of going to air, they were just calling up to make sure the system worked. In the old days, I can remember you always wanted to debut a new graphics look at your biggest event, like the Super Bowl, but sometimes you wouldn’t test it, and when you got on the air, it wasn’t working properly. We’re not letting that happen, and we haven’t for years. We tested it to make sure, electronically, it worked and looked good.

NTV:Infrastructure-wise, getting every hole covered, laying all the wiring down, what do you have to look out for in terms of prep?
TR: IMG helped out on the below-the-line coverage over there, booking the cameramen, handling a lot of the logistics, as well as helping set up the building that will act as our control center, for both us and the world feed. Everything we’re doing is similar to what you’d call a flypack—the switcher and audio boards all come over in pieces and are then installed in the building. At the R&A there’s a gentleman named Rhodri Price, who has a strong golf background, who’s in charge of the course operations, and he’s just been fantastic with us, helping us get our cameras and towers in the right positions for the best possible sight lines and pictures, and he’s been fabulous.

NTV:Beyond the live coverage, you will have player interviews, lead-in shows and post-round wrap-up programming. How much focus goes into those aspects of coverage?
TR: Molly Solomon, executive producer of Golf Channel, is on top of all that, and it’s all interfaced with us, so there’s not a separate news group doing things on their own. It’s all working together, synergy with the equipment and the people, and all that planning happens ahead of time so we go in as one unit.