NBC Sports, NEP Tech Teams Tackle U.S. Open

The technical teams from NBC Sports and NEP are once again meeting the challenge of the U.S. Open, one of golf’s biggest tournaments. And it also once again concludes a one-year preparation at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD, to ensure that everything — from cabling needs to placement of cameras and mics — helps tell the story in the best way possible.

“One thing with golf that makes it different from other sports is that every tournament is different,” says Ken Carpenter, technical manager for NEP Supershooters and NBC golf coverage. “This one has a lot of elevation changes, and the holes are wrapped around each other like a badly coiled cable.”

Ken Carpenter oversees golf operations for NBC Sports and NEP.

Those constant changes from year to year lead to the production team’s thinking about how to maximize those differences.

“[Producer] Tommy Roy is very passionate for both the game and our product,” says Carpenter.

The first challenge is the lack of flat ground. Carpenter maintains that the only level ground is on the tee boxes.

“Trying to find level ground for the compound has made it difficult to park,” he says of a compound that is also tighter than usual. This year’s compound also has a first: all the broadcast entities are on the same power grid.

Elevation changes also introduced challenges for covering holes. On the 18th hole, for example, the elevation changes make it impossible for the cameras around the green to see the first and second shots on the monstrous 523-yd. par four.

The biggest production change has been the addition of an Actioncam, an aerial camera that covers the action on the 10th and 18th holes.

“We tried to use it last year at Pebble Beach, but we would have ended up putting one of the [rigging towers] in the Pacific so it became a real challenge,” says Carpenter. “So Tommy has been looking for a good place to use it, and in between the 10th and 18th holes is a great place to do it.”

Actioncam was chosen because it has the lowest-profile system in the market, with a smaller camera and smaller cables, two factors that also allow smaller towers. The three-axis system is operated with four motors and allows the camera to fly on a straight line and to move up and down.

“Tommy wanted the least-obtrusive system,” Carpenter adds, “because, if golfers can’t see it, they can’t complain about it.”

The NBC Sports production is the backbone of the network’s own coverage and of ESPN’s and the world feed. NEP Supershooter ND3’s A, B, and C units are the main production area, with ND4’s A, B, and C units in a support role for updates, Lexus wrap-ups, NBCSports.com, and more.

The NEP trucks may say Sunday Night Football but for this weekend they are all about the golf.

All Mobile’s Cinetour unit serves as an edit facility while NEP’s ESU unit distributes signals to all the other broadcast partners. CP Communications also has three units on hand to handle five wireless handheld cameras and a Steadicam.

Alongside Actioncam, 54 other cameras are in use, including one Inertia Unlimited X-Mo, two Sony Super SloMo systems, the Steadicam rig, two jibs, three Cueballs, and two GoPro systems.

“We’ve been playing with the GoPro systems for a couple of events],” says Carpenter, “using them first at TPC Sawgrass for the Players [tournament. Like every other device, it has to have a purpose, so one of them is on a tree near the 7th green and another is behind the bleachers at 17. Nobody knows it is there because it is the size of a pack of cigarettes.”

The Cueballs are placed in locations where placing a standard camera would not be realistic. One is in the water on the 10th hole and can follow tee shots on the par three and show them rolling into the water. On the 9th hole, a Cueball is located 25 ft. up in a tree, allowing it to get shots into a valley in front of the green. And the third is located in the scoring area.

One pleasant surprise? RF congestion has been close to normal, despite the presence of homeland security and a Washington, DC, corridor jam-packed with military, security, and other personnel.

Says Carpenter, “It’s been better than we thought.”