Braving Winds at St. Andrews, ESPN Produces Memorable Open Championship

Extreme winds are always a concern on the Old Course at Scotland’s St. Andrews Royal & Ancient Golf Club, but the howling gusts at this year’s British Open Championship were startling even to seasoned veterans like ESPN VP of Production Mike McQuade.

“The weather was definitely an issue. At times, the wind was so fierce that we had to make adjustments [on the fly],” he says. “We’re very proud of how we covered it, though — from an editorial standpoint and a [production standpoint].”

Casualties of Wind
As a result of the winds, which reached speeds as high as 30 mph and forced play to halt on Friday, ESPN was forced to periodically take down its prized Strada crane camera located behind the 17th tee. The Strada crane, which sits 90 ft. high, is the world’s tallest camera crane. Despite falling victim to the elements, it was deemed an overwhelming success for ESPN.

“The Strada is going to be a difference-maker in how we cover the sport,” says McQuade. “I thought that at the beginning of the week, and I felt that way when we walked away Sunday. It gives you the scope and breadth that you just can’t get with a jib or hard cameras. It was all that we had hoped it would be, despite the weather.”

Also affected by the wind was the RF receive site at St. Andrews, which was well above 75 ft. in the air and had to be lowered as the winds continued to pound it.

Although most viewers were oblivious to these issues, one production aspect did make it to air.  “The wind interferes with the steadiness of your camera shots,” says McQuade. “Camerapeople can have a tough time with that, and it’s obviously hard for the viewer to handle as the camera is shaking.”

ESPN Cameras on Hand
For the first time in ESPN’s British Open history, the network brought its own cameras across the Atlantic rather than relying chiefly on the world feed. In order to achieve an entirely HD production, also a first, ESPN rolled out 35 cameras of its own.

“[Having our own cameras] greatly changes how we produce the event,” says McQuade. “It gives us the control we need to focus on the storylines that are most important to our audience.  We did not use the world feed as a primary source like in the past. It was a secondary source, and that’s something that really benefited [our production].

Marathon Effort
Much like the runaway winner, Louis Oosthuizen, McQuade and his crew were able to overcome the perilous winds and come out on top by the time the tournament concluded on Sunday. In total, ESPN produced more than 90 live hours of televised coverage.

“We broadcast more hours of a golf tournament than ever before,” says McQuade. “I can’t imagine that anyone has done more in just four days than we did.”