Chaotic TV city at Merion ensures seamless golf coverage

Television crews monitor Tiger Woods putting on the 16th green during the second round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club.
Television crews monitor Tiger Woods putting on the 16th green during the second round of the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 16, 2013

The verdant driving range at the famed Merion Golf Club has been transformed into a muddy TV city, with tractor-trailer production units, gravel instead of grass, and hundreds of empty stacked spools of fiber-optic cable.

"It used to be a driving range. It will be again," Ken Carpenter, NBC Sports technical manager, said ruefully Friday afternoon.

It's from here that NBC, ESPN, the Golf Channel, Europe's Sky Sports, and other media outlets are beaming images of this year's - at least up to now - rain-wracked U.S. Open.

For NBC, which owns the live TV rights to the championship rounds, the project has been a year in the planning. The Comcast Corp.-owned network has laid three million square feet of fiber cable on the course and parked 15 tractor-trailers for coordinating live video, graphics, audio, and other functions.

Inside one of those trailers, NBC producer Tommy Roy and his crew had settled themselves in front of a bank of 21 flat screens with images from about 50 cameras following the players.

It sounded like a loud family dinner, with several people talking at once and Roy barking orders and observations. As he did, the live image received by viewers focused on one player and then moved on to another and another. The seeming chaos in the trailer contrasted with the seamless broadcast.

"We don't have any more Mickelson," Roy said. "Roll purple. . . . Read Y." The orders seemed ceaseless.

Sports producers say golf is the most difficult live event to produce because of the number of balls in play at one time and the constant action with no logical TV breaks, thus the need for all the trucks and employees. There are about 500 NBC and Golf Channel employees producing live and studio shows from Merion.

Carpenter, an NBC veteran of 19 U.S. Opens, said the rain has slowed play in Merion but he sees it as no different than weather in other parts of the country, noting tournaments hit by fog, high winds, and flash storms.

Rich Lerner, an anchor and analyst for the Golf Channel, stepped outside the channel's trailer and into the bleak TV city that has defiled the driving range. There had been some question leading up to the event whether the Merion course would challenge today's professional golfers.

"It's a bona fide U.S. Open," he said. "Merion is standing up pretty well."


Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bfernandez@phillynews.com.

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