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The evolution of Every Shot Live

8 Min Read


The evolution of Every Shot Live

The PGA TOUR takes the next step in golf coverage at this year’s THE PLAYERS Championship

    Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR

    Ambition and enthusiasm are resourceful commodities by themselves. But when accompanied by a firm embrace of technology and a commitment to meeting the high standards of your fan base, a meteor is your mode of transportation.

    And it’s likely to land you in a stratosphere never imagined – like being able to deliver to your fans every shot by every player in THE PLAYERS Championship. Yes, all of ‘em. Somewhere north of 31,000 combined by 144 players over four days over THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

    Digest those numbers and the mere concept of Every Shot Live for a minute. Then you can appreciate the sense of anticipation that is swelling within Scott Gutterman, Senior Vice President of Digital Operations for the PGA TOUR.

    “It’s one of the most exciting undertakings in technology that we’ve ever done at the PGA TOUR,” he said. “THE PLAYERS has traditionally been where we have introduced new technology to golf. We look forward to showcasing what we believe is the future of golf coverage.”

    He could add that it’s daunting, overwhelming, and complicated, too, but Gutterman knows passionate fans aren’t so much interested in all the logistics. Nope. They’re only thrilled that Every Shot Live is the ultimate supply that answers the demand.

    “This is the thing that fans have asked the most about since I joined the TOUR 15 years ago. When can we see every shot?” Gutterman said.

    Well, if you’re a subscriber to PGA TOUR LIVE on NBC Sports Gold, the answer is: Tune in bright and early to start Thursday’s first round on March 12 and you can live-stream to your heart’s content at PGATOUR.COM/EveryShotLive. And stay right there till dusk for the final round on March 15, because you’ll still be in position to live-stream every shot from every player who makes the cut.

    This seriously ambitious PGA TOUR undertaking involves impressive numbers:

    • 120 total cameras on the course between NBC, PGA TOUR LIVE, and Every Shot Live.

    • Of those, 93 will be used for Every Shot Live.

    • The project required adding 36 cameras to what was already planned to be on-site at the tournament.

    • All 18 tee boxes will have unmanned cameras.

    • All 18 greens will have manned cameras.

    • At least one wireless camera will be at every fairway.

    • The estimate for live coverage to chronicle every shot of the 2020 PLAYERS Championship is astounding – 747 hours, roughly 432 on Thursday and Friday, 315 for Saturday and Sunday.

    When you factor in the contributions made by Trackman and TopTracer that are hugely popular with PGA TOUR fans – not to mention the ability to view “speed rounds,” whereby subscribers can see a whirlwind of shots by their favorite players – it’s no wonder Gutterman laughed when he says Every Shot Live is not a project “for the weak of heart.”

    Nor would it be a project that could even be comprehended by an unnamed cameraman whose hiccup moment from nearly 60 years ago pretty much sums up the sort of different galaxies golf on TV has traveled. The cameraman filming a match between Byron Nelson and Gene Littler on “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” in 1962 never was identified, which is a shame given the comical shape he provided to golf folklore.

    But the late Fred Raphael, who was an innovator in TV sports (and gets much credit for giving birth to the idea of legends playing competitive golf, which morphed into the PGA TOUR Champions), never tired of telling the story with sheer delight.

    As on-site producer, Raphael watched Nelson deliver a fairway-splitting drive at a tough, par-4 first hole at Pine Valley, then turned his attention to the next player on the tee, Littler. Only thing is, there was a disruption.

    “The cameraman,” Raphael recalled, “climbed down from the tower” and waved for Littler to stand back. “Ask (Nelson) to hit it again, we missed it.”

    Oh, how Raphael used to laugh when he told the story. And, oh, how that cameraman might think he had been beamed onto Mars if told that PGA TOUR Entertainment folks were going to not only film the very first tee shot and the very last putt, but also every other shot in between.

    Welcome to a project that personifies the technological explosion with sports television.

    “The evolution of this technology is incredible,” Gutterman said. “When I got (to the PGA TOUR) in 2005, we started doing the live-stream at 17 (the iconic island green at TPC Sawgrass). But it was very hard to watch. We just didn’t have enough bandwidth.”

    Just 15 years later, as improbable as it sounds, Gutterman and his colleagues tested the Every Shot Live process earlier this season at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and his anticipation is palpable.

    His isn’t the only view that can measure the eons by which televised golf has improved from where it once was. Tommy Roy, the highly regarded producer of NBC’s golf telecasts since 1993, remembers when he first assumed command, TV viewers would get maybe three hours of coverage, an hour on Saturday and two on Sunday.

    “But on Saturday we’d come on after baseball and if the game went into extra innings, there’d be maybe a half-hour of golf,” Roy said. “Now, viewers have several hours available to them each of the four days of competition.

    “Back in 1993, I think we had maybe three trucks in the TV compound. Now, we have dozens.”

    All of this, said Roy, is keeping up with demands, “because the appetite of sports viewers has grown exponentially.” He gives great credit to the PGA TOUR’S ambition and is thrilled to be part of the execution.

    But if there’s one component to televised golf that hasn’t changed, it is this: It’s arguably the most difficult challenge for TV producers, more demanding than football, basketball, baseball and the other team games played in fixed locales. “In golf, we have 18 stadiums to cover,” said Greg Hopfe, vice-president and executive producer at PGA TOUR Entertainment.

    “It’s intimidating.”

    Oh, “and the 18 stadiums are spread out over 150-plus acres,” said Gutterman, “with maybe 75 players all over the course.”

    That massive playing area once required networks to put down miles and miles of cable, all of which had to be connected to cameras. Such an assignment is pretty much why coverage years ago would be limited to maybe the last six or seven holes. “It would take us five days to set that up,” Roy said.

    But with the introduction of fiber optic cables, well, you’ve got the proverbial “game-changer,” in Roy’s opinion. It’s the reason 18-hole coverage is the norm and why coverage is miles beyond what it used to be. Throw in two other major technological advances – super-slow motion “that allows you to actually see what happens at impact,” and TopTracer, which allows viewers “to see how the best players work the ball left-to-right or right-to-left” – and Roy applauds the PGA TOUR for answering their fans’ call for more.

    More shots by more players for more hours.

    Few could have envisioned the initiative stretching all the way to offering live coverage of all the shots by all the players. Yet Every Shot Live is just days away from being a reality for subscribers.

    “The PGA TOUR is the most content-rich sport on the planet and we have been focused on expanding the amount of content we bring to our fans from our competitions,” said Rick Anderson, the PGA TOUR’s Chief Media Operator, who shares a vision with Gutterman and the entire leadership team at the PGA TOUR. That is, execute this week’s Every Shot Live endeavor at THE PLAYERS, study the results, learn from the experience, and see if, and when, it can become part of the week-to-week landscape.

    “Our vision is to bring every shot in every PGA TOUR golf tournament live and on-demand to our fans, and this is the first step to making that happen,” said Anderson.

    There was a time when the lack of technology left golf fans totally detached from the game via television. Heck, the first golf tournament wasn’t shown on TV till 1947, eight years after MLB had made its television debut – and even then, it was shown only to local viewers in St. Louis. When golf did have its first national broadcast of a tournament, it was in 1953 and a whole hour of the World Championship of Golf was shown from Tam O’Shanter in Chicago.

    The Ryder Cup wasn’t shown live for the first time until 1983, 56 years after it had started, and all you saw was the final four singles matches for the last four holes. The entire 18 holes of the Masters coverage didn’t debut till 2002.

    Along the way, viewers absorbed the hiccups – like the do-over demanded of Nelson at the “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” and perhaps more infamously, Gene Sarazen’s gaffe at the 1955 U.S. Open. The Squire, working TV coverage for NBC – which was delivering the tournament for the second year, even if only for one hour – gleefully praised Ben Hogan for this closing 70 that had him in the clubhouse at 287, at the time five shots better than his nearest threats, Tommy Bolt and Sam Snead.

    “Congratulations on your victory,” Sarazen said to Hogan. To viewers, Sarazen then added it was Hogan’s fifth U.S. Open win.

    The great Sarazen needed a “do-over,” as they say in golf. Better still, what he really needed was a little technology, something that would have shown two late birdies made by an unheralded golfer named Jack Fleck, who pulled even with Hogan, then shockingly won the playoff the next day.

    In other words, he needed Every Shot Live.

    Alas, while The Squire played his golf in the Golden Age of American Sports, his TV work came decades before the introduction of meteoric technology.

    Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.

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