Exclusive: An inside look at broadcasting the PGA Championship

When sitting at home and watching golf, you do not realize how much goes into the broadcast from behind the scenes.

Golf broadcasting is organized chaos, especially at major championships.

Last week, at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, roughly 50 massive television trucks comprised the broadcast compound adjacent to the 17th hole.

Hundreds of producers, directors, cameramen, and runners from all over the world flew into Rochester to help make broadcasts run smoothly in each of those trucks.

The compound also included the announcer booths for the world feed, Sky Sports, the French broadcast, and others, making it one of the busiest places on the golf course.

Plus, golf carts are always passing through—constantly departing or arriving—depending on where the ESPN, CBS, and Golf Channel announcers and camera crews need to go out on the course.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A map of the broadcast compound at the 2023 PGA Championship, one of the busiest places on the property.
Jack Milko

Construction of the compound began months ago. Workers began to build some of the bigger structures, like the catering tent, back in November in the hopes of avoiding some of the harsh Western New York winters.

The television trucks arrived a week before the Championship, when the work for many broadcasters first began.

In the days leading up to the first round, producers, announcers, and statisticians all work to build graphics, features, and layouts.

For instance, Wright Thompson, a brilliant writer and essayist for ESPN, did a feature on Rochester’s famous garbage plates. This story was put together well before it aired on ESPN’s telecast Thursday evening—it took weeks to plan.

Of course, the most important day of the week for the golf broadcast is Wednesday, when final meetings take place, tests occur, and rundowns are finalized.

The PGA of America hosts one of these important meetings. They invited all producers, directors, and announcers on Wednesday morning to a Zoom call.

During that meeting, Kerry Haigh, the Chief Championships Officer for the PGA of America, discussed everything about the golf course: from the rough length to the bunkering to even the threat of a frost, which subsequently followed the next morning.

He provided insight into local rules, noted that the 7th fairway would serve as internal out-of-bounds for those playing the 6th hole, and even revealed the three playoff holes if the Championship ended in a tie after 72 holes.

From that, producers and broadcasters alike incorporated the information Haigh provided into their notes, graphics, and rundowns.

The following day, the magic begins.

Rehearsals, mic checks, and camera checks happen minutes before the broadcast goes on air.

Once live, the producers and directors have to keep an eye on all the golfers on the course—which for the PGA Championship, meant covering 156 golfers.

Of course, the PGA of America splits that number of 156 into two waves: half in the morning and a half in the afternoon during the first two rounds.

Nonetheless, the producers and directors must watch every camera— behind all 18 greens and all 18 tee boxes—to ensure they do not miss a critical moment.

If they do, assistant producers in tape record each shot so the producer can direct the action back to that shot whenever.

No better example occurred late Thursday afternoon when Tom Kim fell into Allen’s Creek.

2023 PGA Championship - Round One

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tom Kim of South Korea plays a shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Kim slipped into the swamp, leaving his entire wardrobe drenched in mud. The camera crew caught all of this but decided not to show this live.

Over twenty minutes passed before ESPN aired Kim’s trip to the creek, opting to show the incident leading into the commercial break.

Plus, the producers wanted to put together all the camera shots they could to create a proper visual for the viewers at home.

They accomplished this masterfully, as Kim’s moment immediately went viral.

Two days later, when torrential downpours blitzed Oak Hill’s lush fairways and greens, CBS lead producer Sellers Shy prioritized showing how the rain affected the golf course.

They kept airing golfers who turned their hats backward, as the players wanted to keep the rain from dripping down off the brim of their caps and into their faces as they played.

Shy would also direct his cameramen to show shots of the rain, golfers playing through the elements, and fans trying to stay dry.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — From inside one of the many production trucks at Oak Hill, where producers have an eye on every hole on the course.
Jack Milko, Playing Through

The next day, the course had dried up, and the Wanamaker Trophy was on the line.

Brooks Koepka entered the day with a one-shot lead over Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners.

Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and Michael Block trailed not too far behind.

On major championship Sundays, the broadcast prioritizes showing each contender’s opening tee shot.

Block and McIlroy received huge ovations on the first tee as fans swarmed this fourth-to-last pairing.

But once everyone was out on the course, CBS focused on the final group of Koepka and Hovland.

It is a tricky balance to squeeze in as much golf as possible, especially with a major on the line. Oh, and CBS has 24 commercial breaks—four per hour—to squeeze in during their six-hour telecast.

When Koepka struggled on the 6th and 7th holes, CBS failed to air Scheffler dropping a shot ahead on the ninth hole.

Fans only noticed Scheffler’s bogey when the little score bug in the lower right corner indicated that Scheffler—now the number one player in the world—slid from 4-under to 3-under.

The network also shied away from showing Conners, who struggled a little bit down the stretch.

Fans also grew agitated because Block did not receive much air-time—until he had the moment of the year.

So when Block made his spectacular hole-in-one, CBS was actually in a commercial. They did not cut to the 15th hole until about five minutes after it happened live.

Immediately after that, Block was the story—CBS showed each of his shots, including his miraculous up-and-down on 18, but in doing so, they missed a ton of golf ahead and behind the marquee McIlroy-Block pairing.

That’s why golf broadcasting is so tricky.

You are bound to miss something, especially given that there are so many players on the course, so many holes to cover, and commercial breaks to consider.

Plus, CBS prides itself on interviewing key players—these help fans understand the player’s perspectives and how the course played.

Those, too, take up time.

Understandably, golf fans want to see as many shots as possible, but viewers need to understand the inner workings of a broadcast.

Broadcasting golf is like juggling: multiple balls are in the air, and you must keep them afloat.

Yet, the broadcast becomes much easier to handle when coming down the stretch at a major.

Fewer groups on the course, fewer commercials, and fewer holes to cover make things run much smoother.

Hence the prolonged coverage of Hovland’s troubles at the 16th hole, where he plugged his second shot into the lip of the bunker, which effectively handed the Wanamaker to Koepka.

Yet, CBS suffered a 15-year low with their numbers, which is inexplicable considering the marquee players involved and Block’s viral moment.

Nonetheless, consider everything happening at the course next time you watch a golf tournament. Golf broadcasting defines the mantra that you cannot be in two places at once. Yet, a golf telecast aims to show everything, even when some things slip through the cracks.

This post was originally published on SBNation

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