Live Streaming From TPC Sawgrass Celebrates 10th Year

By Ken Kerschbaumer

PGA Tour’s The Players championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, this weekend is celebrating the 10th anniversary of live streaming from the 17th hole. “It’s the crown jewel of PGAtour.com’s live-streaming application,” says Chuck Scoggins, VP of operations, PGA Tour Productions. “And the production quality today exceeds our wildest expectations.”

Visitors to PGATour.com can watch more than 11 hours of live coverage of the 17th hole. The signature hole of TPC Sawgrass, a par-three with a green surrounded by water, is one of the most mentally challenging holes in golf, and the three-camera SD production lets viewers see every sunk putt and every sunk ball that misses the green.

“The hole has a very special draw [to golf fans], which is why it was the first hole to be streamed live to the Web 10 years ago,” says Dave Dukes, director of technical operations, PGA Tour. “Ten years ago, we would not have guessed the extent to which people are now willing to sit in front of their computer and watch what was previously exclusively on TV.”

This year’s “Live at 17” production features a new workflow. Instead of a large production unit at the course with a full personnel roster, most of the production takes place at PGA Tour Productions, located in St. Augustine, FL, about 30 minutes away from the course.

In 10 years, the production has advanced along with the popularity of streaming video over the Internet. The early years of the production featured large text and graphics to make sure viewers with 256-kbps connections (or worse) had an acceptable experience. Camera positions and movements were also compromised because fast pans to follow a ball would be unwatchable given bandwidth constraints and home-PC processing power.

But today? “It’s not a full-blown TV production, but it’s really close,” says Scoggins. “And that’s really the only way you can show golf. You can’t just park a camera in the cheap seats and pan back and forth.”

A Sure Shot production unit is on-site at the course and sends two camera feeds back to PGA Tour Productions. Three cameras are exclusive to the online production, and, when NBC hits the air with its coverage, those signals are available as well. The Sure Shot truck has a small production area that is used to create a basic line cut of the tee shot for one signal, with the other signal offering other types of shots, such as isolation angles.

Those two signals are then brought into a PGA Tour Productions control room manned by a graphics operator, director, technical director, EVS/replay operator, audio mixer, and font coordinator. Equipment featured includes a Sony SD production switcher, the EVS replay server, and Deko graphics.

“We were looking to do ‘Live at 17’ more cost-effectively,” says Dukes, “without the full expense of travelling people, trucks, and crews.”

The new production workflow, with the end product produced at PGA Tour Productions, is allowing similar live hole coverage to be done at eight additional tournaments this year.

“Another benefit is, we have access to the library and archive,” says Dukes. “You can’t take 80,000 hours of content to the course and have it on hand for a quick feature.”