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PGA Championship Spotlight, Part 1: Video-Gamification of Golf's Final Major Changes How Viewers See the Sport


PGA Championship Spotlight, Part 1: Video-Gamification of Golf's Final Major Changes How Viewers See the Sport Shot-tracer technology, live green animations, 4D replays enhance insight into the game By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Friday, August 10, 2018 - 10:45 am

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Golf has a reputation for being very much set in its ways. It's a game romantically - at times, stubbornly - steeped in tradition, a sport not exactly known for living on the bleeding edge.

CBS Sports and Turner Sports' joint coverage of the PGA Championship - which continues through Sunday on TNT and CBS - has spent the past few years blowing those notions to smithereens.

Toptracer technology provides a real-time look at the path of a shot off the tee. For the first time, CBS and Turner are able to offer Toptracer on all 18 tees, as well as in selected circumstances on golfers' second shots off the fairway.

In fact, viewers of this weekend's tournament, the final major of the golf season, may feel that they're watching a new videogame more than an old sepia-toned film. Turner and CBS are rolling out a slew of technologies - live ball tracking, green mapping, even 360-camera rigs - designed to give the viewer insight they've never enjoyed before.

The approach may be surprising to the casual observer, but it's widely embraced by many who both cover and consume the sport.

This audience is a bit more progressive than we give them credit for, in terms of what they'll accept on screen, says Matt Kane, an associate producer for Turner Sports. He is overseeing much of the Thursday and Friday coverage, which airs on TNT; the action flips over to CBS air on Saturday and Sunday. I believe that, when you don't see many of these elements, it leaves you as a golf viewer wanting more. These things have become expected now, especially at a major championship.

So, as golf's best tackle the course at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, these innovations are blasting their way onto viewer screens:


Perhaps the most impactful technological development of the past few years on CBS Sports and Turner Sports' golf coverage has been the integration of Toptracer. 3D radar tracking enables the real-time graphic display of the true path of a ball.

Shown on screen as a red line, Toptracer allows the broadcaster to show flight direction, speed, the height apex, and even the curve of the shot. When used correctly, it's golf's version of the yellow 1st & and Ten line. It's at that level of importance to the viewing experience.

Says Kane, The Toptracer technology is a game-changer in the coverage of this sport, for sure.

Toptracer is not new (it was first used for the 2016 PGA Championship, at Baltusrol in Springfield, NJ) but is being deployed much more aggressively this year. In the past, the tracer was available only on the tee shot from selected holes. Now it's available on all 18 tee boxes and, with the addition of Toptracer RF, is available even on some second shots from the fairway. Two RF cameras roaming the course are outfitted with the Toptracer technology, allowing additional use of the onscreen enhancement.

Toptracer data is married with a 3D rendering of the hole to give viewers a live animation of a tee shot in-flight.

It's really exciting because, from my experience, that's what fans want to see, says Harold Bryant, executive producer/SVP, production, CBS Sports. It's a great tool that will help us make this an even more exciting event.

The broadcasters also leverage Toptracer data to create what is called the ARL Virtual Eye. During the event, golfers on their tee shots will be shown with a 3D map of the hole on the right side of a split screen. With the combination of the Toptracer data and a virtual flyover of the hole, viewers get a highly accurate real-time look at where a drive is headed along the fairway and when it eventually comes to rest.

Execs from both Turner and CBS note the importance of these kinds of storytelling tools in broadcasts from a course that many viewers may not be familiar with. Bellerive has not hosted a major championship since 1992.

The Tracer technology has become integral to [our storytelling process] in broadcasting the sport of golf, says Kane. We've fully embraced it, along with the animations we've added. Viewers are very familiar with seeing Augusta every year, but, when you have a course like Bellerive, I think a fair amount of our job initially is to educate the viewer on what the course is like and how it plays. All of our technology direction is going towards that mission.

Hawk-Eye Green Technology

Broadcast tech at this PGA Championship is also solving the mystery of the green. For many years, broadcasters have used different technologies, such as grids and moving arrows, to show what undulations a golfer faces when putting. Although there will still be plenty of that on this show, CBs and Turner are deploying Hawk-Eye for a new approach to putting.

Hawk-Eye technology allowing CBS and Turner to offer a new look at putting, displaying a path to success based on data on swing power and green layout.

Hawk-Eye is known for its game-changing work on official reviews in tennis and on goal-line technology in soccer. Now the Sony-owned tech developer is changing how viewers watch putts, not by outlining the hills and curves of the green but by offering a predicted path to success. A shaded area is sandwiched between the line of a hard, powerful putt to the back of the hole and a curved line for a softer, finesse putt. The idea is that, if a golfer's putt leaves that shaded area, the putt will be off target.

According to Bryant, the technology is available for use on four holes this year, and the front bench is likely to call on it w
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