NORTON, Mass. — The patch of earth off the 10th tee at TPC Boston is quiet now, as Golf Channel’s "Double Eagle" trailers and a dozen or so trucks hauling miles of cables, 37 cameras, 125 TV monitors, and all the other gear needed to produce one golf tournament have decamped for this week’s BMW Championship at Crooked Stick.
During Labor Day weekend, though, when TPC Boston hosted the PGA Tour’s best players in the annual Deutsche Bank Championship, casual passersby would have had no inkling about the bustle of activity taking place inside the GC production trucks parked behind a stand of trees in the dusty broadcast lot.
Nor would TV viewers watching play at the second stage of the FedEx Cup have known about the non-stop efforts of some 200 people, orchestrated by NBC Sports’ lead golf producer Tommy Roy, that enable Golf Channel to keep its audience engaged by zooming from key stroke to key stroke through 18 holes every day for four days.
Managing the bedlam
Roy, the son of a golf pro, is a force of nature. The winner of 30 Emmy Awards for his work on Super Bowls, World Series, the Olympics, and a host of other big-time sporting events, he presides over the behind-the-scenes world of golf production from his center chair in extremely close quarters inside a nondescript trailer parked far from where the golfers ply their trade.
It’s his job, and that of his crew, to manage the bedlam of live shot-to-shot coverage mixed with player features and interviews, commercials, and any number of unscripted events that unfold during the hours-long block of time devoted to the tournament.
Roy observed that televising golf bears no resemblance to other professional sports, each of which involves a single ball on one defined, enclosed field or court. In addition to teams calling for breathers, TV timeouts let producers exhale for a few moments.
But, except for the hard-working squad inside the trucks, golf is not a team sport. There's no halftime or stoppage of action in a golf tournament, during which there could be as many as 36 balls in play on 18 separate fields (or holes), across acres and acres of manicured fairways and unkempt native areas.
And while television audiences may grab snacks when those ubiquitous Cialis ads air, Roy must monitor what’s happening on each of the 125 screens that line the wall opposite his control console so you won’t miss critical shots after you return from your bathroom break.
Roy, though his eyes never leaving the flat screens, some of which hold multiple images, makes it look easy. He has help, of course.
He maintains that producing a golf telecast is nothing like televising the game that Tom Brady plays down the road in Foxborough. But when co-producer Jeff Jastrow stands behind him perusing the field for potential replays, and with director Doug Grabert and other team members flanking them as Roy waves his arms and points like a QB identifying the defense, this production squad certainly resembles a well-oiled football machine.
"Jeff [filling in for regular co-producer Tom Randolph] is keeping us on track: who’s hitting next and where we ought to go," Roy told me over the din of several voices, in the truck and with headsets all over the course, speaking at once. "I’m telling the announcers every shot, what’s coming, because it’s not like a football game where they can watch it in front of them. I have to say, ‘Over to 16, [Steve] Stricker, second shot.’"
There’s also the two-minute warning, which in this context means that the contained freneticism inside the trailer intensifies as game time nears. This day, though, midway through the second round of the DBC, with the opening story lines ready as Golf Channel prepared to go live on anything-can-happen Saturday, Roy was at ease and thrumming his fingers on his desk as he awaited the "10, 9, 8 …" countdown to live coverage and his, "Have a good show, everybody."
While Roy drummed, anchors Frank Nobilo and Terry Gannon joked around and the lilting tones of on-camera personality Steve Sands’ intro music, "Mr. Sandman" wafted through the network’s main trailer. Various voices wondered whether The Andrews Sisters or The Chordettes made the 1950s song famous (answer: Chordettes).
On this particular Saturday, which was hot, sunny, and windless, the remnants of Hurricane Hermine were barreling toward the south coast of Massachusetts and threatening to wreak havoc with Sunday’s tee times. Shortly after going live, Roy had to deal with what such changes would mean for the third-round telecast.
Mark Russell, a PGA Tour VP of rules and competitions, stopped by the trailer to update Roy about potential earlier tee times off the front and the back that could force the network to go to the ever-unpopular tape-delayed broadcast.
As it turned out, Sunday’s weather was fine but the possibility of heavy winds for Monday necessitated final-round tee times to begin at 7 a.m. ET with threesomes going off holes 1 and 10. That meant GC was live from 7:15-9:15 a.m., replayed earlier live coverage from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m, and NBC went to tape delay between 1:30-6 p.m., finishing up long after Rory McIlroy had mounted his come-from-behind victory.
After listening to Roy explain the logistics involved in such a switch — from checking with NBC about whether golf might bump Sunday-morning programming (not a chance), to getting tour commissioner Tim Finchem’s blessing for any adjustments, and recognizing that GC was contractually obligated to broadcast Web.com and LPGA Tour events — I’ll never complain again about having to watch canned golf.
I’ll also never doubt that golf is unique among all the professional sports to televise — and the most challenging.
"I look at it as 18 baseball games played simultaneously and then we choose which of those baseball games you get," audio mixer Chris Acker observed. "It’s controlled chaos."
All brought to you, flawlessly, by a traveling troop of TV production professionals who pull up stakes and travel to the next venue week after week. All you have to do is punch up Golf Channel on the remote, sit back, and enjoy.