All Eyes on 17th Hole at NBC Sports Group’s Players Championship

A 139-yard par-3? Piece of cake, right? Not so much at TPC Sawgrass, where NBC Sports Group is once again covering every conceivable angle of the storied 17th hole and its maddening island green this week. With a total of nine cameras fixed on 17, longtime NBC Sports golf producer Tommy Roy and his team hope to once again capture the thrill of a birdie and the agony of a double-bogey at one of golf’s most infamous — and beloved — holes.

“The one great thing is, at some point when the leaders and other players on the leaderboard are walking in between shots, I can always go to the 17th tee,” says Roy. “It doesn’t matter who’s standing on that tee, even if it’s the guy in dead last place, it’s interesting to watch him grind over that shot, and hearing the murmur of the crowd creates more tension. It’s fantastic television.”

17 Gets the Royal Treatment
The nine-camera complement at 17 includes two elements that have become staples of NBC and Golf Channel’s Players Championship coverage: a microscopic lens embedded in the lip of the small bunker fronting the green and an ActionCam cable-suspended system flying over the lake between the 16th and 17th greens. In addition, to capture player reactions, NBC has deployed a super-slo-mo camera system and has once again marooned a camera operator on a small island near the 17th green for approximately eight hours during each day’s broadcast .

NBC’s coverage at 17 also includes a manned crane at the right of the 16th fairway and lifted by a 150-ft.-tall crane, giving the camera a clear view over the tree line of 16, 17, and 18. A camera is also situated behind the 14th tee to provide a seldom seen, reverse ball-flight view for one of the more difficult tee shots on the course. As for the audio, often the most captivating aspect of the hole, NBC has scattered more than 20 microphones throughout the 17th hole.

“My motto is, status quo is never good enough, so I’m always trying to improve it,” says Roy. “Several years ago, I used two periscope cameras; one was right by the drop area so that, as they hit their third shot into the green, it went right over the top of that camera. Then, we had another camera that was down by the walkway in the water to follow the players as they walked around [to the island green]. And they were good, but now that we have the [ActionCam], we get a much better angle for both that shot from the drop area and also the walkover. So I’ve killed [the periscope cameras].”

All Over the Course in Ponte Vedra Beach
Other tools in NBC Sports Group’s 55-camera arsenal include multiple jibs, bunker cam, seven robotic cameras, an additional super-slo-mo at 18, and an Inertia Unlimited X-Mo ultra-slo-mo system following the leaders as they make their way around the course. In addition, the NBCee It system will once again allow analysts to zoom in on various portions of the swing on replays. Audio-wise, NBC has rolled out 120 microphones to capture the sounds of Sawgrass.

NBC’s NEP ND4 gold trucks (A, B, and C units) are in the compound, along with NEP SS24, which arrived straight from Churchill Downs following last weekend’s Kentucky Derby.

The new ProTracer application in action for NBC and Golf Channel.

The new ProTracer application in action for NBC and Golf Channel.

In addition to using its Protracer ball-tracking graphics system in the traditional sense, the production team has introduced a new application to their use of Protracer technology, which graphically tracts the flight of golf balls in the air.  Typically shown from behind the player, this new Protracer perspective features a view of shots from behind the green and slightly to the side at the famous island green at the par-3 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Because weather and wind play a major influence on hitting strategies at the hole, the side view demonstrates how players decide on the trajectory of their shots.

“I’m hoping for a really windy day with a few guys fighting the ball down or [going] ahead and [taking] it up into the sky,” says Roy. “I’m not 100% sure this is going to work. We think it is. We’re going to be testing it on Wednesday, and I think, if it does work and we do get a windy day, it’s going to be really enlightening for the viewers.”

Limited Commercial Interruption = More Beauty of Sawgrass
Another advantage, especially for covering 17, is the limited commercial interruption offered during the Players. With just three 1-minute 20-second breaks per hour, Roy is able to go beyond the leaders and cover the ambiance of Sawgrass at greater length.

“When you’re producing a golf tournament … you go to commercial breaks when the leaders are walking between shots,” says Roy. “You produce it around the leader of the tournament, so you get every one of the leaders’ shots live and then go to break while they’re walking between shots. [But] the one great advantage we have with the Players is its limited commercial interruption. … So we’re getting to show the golf course, the many other players than just the leaders.”