Golf Channel’s The Big Break: Keeping It Real on the Golf Course

Into all sports a little reality must fall. And maybe the occasional tree, too. The Big Break, the Golf Channel’s long-running reality-TV show, gives aspiring pro golfers expedited entrée into the big leagues if they can execute the challenges put before them, like hitting balls into buckets, and avoid getting voted off the, er, course. Capturing the sound for this Snookie-meets-Tiger outing is an adventure in itself.

Thomas Morrison has been doing that since the show’s fourth episode, in 2005. Even his connection to the program has a tinge of reality TV: Golf Channel came to Nashville, where Morrison attended the music-production program at Belmont University and where he stayed to engineer sessions in Music Row studios, to shoot a segment of a tribute to late golfer Payne Stewart, featuring Payne’s close friend, country singer Vince Gill. (Payne died in a macabre plane accident in 1999: his private jet lost cabin pressure, and all aboard died of hypoxia, even as the aircraft continued flying on autopilot for hundreds of miles until it crashed after running out of fuel.)

The Golf Channel producer had heard of a particular type of software-based multitrack field recording system that Morrison was especially adept with, UK-based Gallery Software’s Metacorder. After deciding the software would be a good fit for the recently launched The Big Break, the channel hired Morrison to run it.

Today, Morrison has built out a kit that includes the Metacorder and Lectroconics Venue rack-mounted modular receiver system and an array of 400 series wireless microphones that he fits on the show’s contestants and mentors. The first show he worked was at the famous St. Andrews Links in Scotland, where he caught the sound of a tree falling on the course during the show along with what would eventually become a sizable library of thwacks and splashes that go into postproduction of the show.

“It’s not like the weekend golf shows on CBS, where the cameras and sound are stationed on certain holes,” says Morrison. “We follow all the players around to all the holes. There’s a lot of sound to capture.”

He also works with Golf Channel’s Stef Butler, the camera operator and HD engineer for the Golf Central news show.

The sound captured by Morrison’s small mobile army of A2s is all SMPTE time-coded, allowing the audio from each hole and player to be synched later in post. The Metacorder’s main distinction — its ability to record and display media metadata, such as scene, take, automatic file naming, and file-hierarchy management, functionality developed for the software’s original, film market — serves the needs of reality-TV field recording equally well, he says.

“All of the important information about each scene follows the audio right into the studio,” he explains. “It makes finding and matching the right audio for each picture a lot easier.”

That also helps manage the audio on the golf course, where Morrison and his crew are often hundreds of yards apart and have to catch not only the sounds of the game and the ambient nat sounds but also the dialogue between the players. “There are definitely range issues for the wireless mics,” he points out. “We have to do a lot of tweaking with the directional antennas.”

The odd wayward tree aside, wind is the biggest challenge for The Big Break’s audio, as it often is for golf on television. Like many veteran A1s, Morrison is reluctant to give away his tricks, but he notes that he relies heavily on the usual remedies, such as moleskin wraps and different types of adhesives to hold mics in place.

What he likes, though, is that the wind occurs in a variety of often exotic locations. “I love working for the Golf Channel. The show’s taken me to some of the nicest resorts all over the world,” he says, citing Europe, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. “And I don’t even play golf.”