Live From The Open: ESPN, R&A Come Together for Road Hole Coverage

ESPN’s ITV efforts at The Open this year have expanded over previous productions, thanks to a deal with The Royal & Ancient Golf Club that has ESPN and the R&A working together on a live stream of all the action from the famed 17th Road Hole.

“We wanted to do something more, and the R&A saw an opportunity as well,” says Don Colantonio, senior director, production enhancements and interactive TV, ESPN. “In the past, we repurposed BBC feeds, but, this year, we are collaborating with the R&A.”

The two entities are sharing production costs for the coverage, which will be seen on ESPN3, ESPN’s ITV service on DirecTV, and the R&A Website and app.

The ESPN ITV production team on the front bench in CTV’s OB9 production unit

The ESPN ITV production team on the front bench in CTV’s OB9 production unit

“We’ve effectively doubled the scope of the production in terms of people and facilities in order to produce the extra channel,” adds Colantonio.

Coverage of the hole requires two unilateral cameras, one located high behind the green and the second on the roof of the Old Course Hotel located across the road that runs alongside the hole. The production team also has access to other ESPN and BBC camera signals, including the bunker camera, Strata crane, and both the front and rear pro-tracers that show the flight of the ball as it leaves the tee and then as it lands on the fairway or rough.

“It’s extremely difficult to produce and cut a show when you don’t have control of the cameras,” notes Colantonio. “So the two cameras are safe and under control of our director.”

Jim Kelly and Dougie Donnelly host coverage of the Road Hole along with analysts Warren Humphreys and Kim Thomas.

The ESPN efforts this year also feature the use of Vizrt to integrate data like a real-time leaderboard and ticker to enhance the experience.

“We want to present more of a digital application rather than a traditional telecast,” Colantonio explains.

As has been the case for the past five years, CTV Outside Broadcast’s OB9 production unit will be at the center of the production. New this year is the use of OB14 and MTV1 for additional audio needs and integration of the BBC world-program feed as commercial breaks and other elements need to be inserted.

Along with the Road Hole stream, viewers will be treated to a daily “featured group” feed (hosted by Trey Wingo and Allen Bestwick with analysis by Tom Weiskopf and Carl Paulson), coverage from the practice range, and the world-feed coverage from the BBC. ESPN3’s Open Championship options also will include a Spanish-language feed with ESPN Deportes golf announcers.

All told, nearly 60 people are involved in the ITV production.

“Every year, we make advances,” says Colantonio. “This year is a wonderful opportunity to create another show and create a richer experience for our viewers.”

In a little more than six weeks, the ESPN team will have a chance to offer another, richer experience for viewers. ITV coverage related to the U.S. Open tennis championships also seems poised for growth.

“The ESPN network coverage will start at 1 p.m. ,” says Colantonio, “but we will produce a whiparound show, in addition to five court feeds of coverage Monday through Friday.”