Inclement Weather Forecasts Great Ratings for NBC’s U.S. Open Coverage

By Carolyn Braff

Inclement weather is threatening to wreak havoc at this weekend’s U.S. Open Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, NY, but NBC says let it rain” havoc on the course should make for great television.

NBC is producing 16 hours of HD primetime coverage of the 2009 U.S. Open, and the constant threat of rain has the network primed to pull in extra viewers.

“How many times have you turned off an NFL game when the snow’s flying?” asks Dan Hicks, host of NBC’s golf coverage. “I think [the weather] adds intrigue. I sure wouldn’t turn the television off if it was raining sideways, guys had the rain gear on, and Tiger Woods was out here trying to see what kind of score he could put up.”

However, the network cannot simply sing through the rain. Rainy weather brings along with it low visibility, which quickly complicates any broadcast–especially on the golf course.

“It makes it a little more difficult for the cameramen to follow balls,” explains Tommy Roy, producer of NBC’s golf coverage. “If the ceiling from the rain gets too low, then the blimp can’t fly, and we use the blimp pretty significantly within our coverage, showing shots and, particularly, where they end up.”

This year marks NBC’s 15th year providing coverage of the U.S. Open, and it is not the first time the network has worked at Bethpage Black. NBC is also producing the first- and second-round coverage that airs on ESPN, and never before has the course’s mobile production compound been so jam-packed.

“We did the Open here at Bethpage seven years ago, and we had 18 trailers and trucks in the television compound then,” Roy explains. “This year, there are 40.”

Those 40 trucks and trailers belong to NBC, ESPN, and a host of international broadcasters that have flocked to Farmingdale from countries around the world to cover the increasingly popular event.

The massive equipment setup is also partly due to NBC moving all of its coverage to HD. The network’s 53 on-course HD cameras require enough support equipment to ensure that fans do not miss a single swing–or shot of the rough.

“We’re not only covering the approach shots into greens, but there’s much more emphasis on driving here at the U.S. Open where they have the rough in play,” Roy explains. “We need to show those tee shots, and we’re fortunate that there’s limited commercial interruption so that we can do that.”

After a successful run at The Player’s Championship, NBC will once again utilize its Pinpoint 3D graphics platform. Pinpoint uses real-time graphics to show 3D models of each hole, as well as breaks on the greens.

“This golf course has a lot of elevation change in it, so it’s a rolling piece of property,” Roy explains. “The elevation is a significant factor in how guys play their shots, and we’re able to show that with this 3D device.”

That 3D technology will also be helpful in showing the sheer size of the Bethpage Black course–and understanding the challenge it poses to broadcasters. Several miles separate the television compound, where the mobile-production trucks are parked, from the clubhouse, so NBC has more than 175,000 feet of cable laid across the course. All together, nearly 400 miles of fiber-optic cable are needed to connect the broadcast center to the dozens of cameras and microphones located throughout the massive public course.

All technical difficulties aside, the rainy weather will certainly dictate the storylines at Bethpage Black, starting with the tournament’s headliner.

“When Tiger Woods was going to school at Stanford, he used to go out and practice in the rain because he knew that if he was going to be a champion, he’d have to play in situations just like what we’re going to experience [this week],” Roy explains.

NBC’s coverage of the U.S. Open tees off Thursday, June 18, at 3 p.m. ET.