Golf Channel pulls off impossible to broadcast Sony Open

Inside the production truck for the NBC/Golf Channel broadcast of the Sony Open in Honolulu.

Inside the production truck for the NBC/Golf Channel broadcast of the Sony Open in Honolulu.

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photo

TGC sets up the Driving Grid camera tower for the Sony Open.

Final Sony Open scores, FedEx Cup points and earnings, click here.

• • •

HONOLULU – It has gone into the books as a remarkable first round of the 2013 Sony Open, the rookie performances by Scott Langley and Russell Henley etching indelible memories.

Rounds of 62 (Langley) and 63 (Henley)?

Take a bow, gentlemen.

But if you could pardon the request to stand in line behind those who truly deserve credit it would be greatly appreciated. They are the nameless and faceless men and women who pulled off a herculean effort to move the PGA Tour from Maui to Oahu and onto your TV screen in seamless fashion.

Mark Rolfing, a veteran member of the NBC and Golf Channel golf teams, told a gathering of Sony officials and guests Thursday night that he doesn’t think he’s ever been more proud of his network – and he had every right to be. The logistics involved make a 320-yard drive seem like kid’s play.

Said NBC’s longtime producer Tommy Roy: “I would not anticipate the rest of my career ever having to turn one around this quickly.”

To the average viewer, it might not seem like a big deal to finish the telecast of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday at 1 p.m. and begin the broadcast of the Sony Open approximately 48 hours later on The Golf Channel. No big deal, that is, until you tour the NBC/Golf Channel compound off the 16th fairway here at Waialae Country Club and listen to all that was involved in changing locales.

Here in a macadamia nutshell is the task that confronted Roy and TGC with its commitment to broadcast the first two PGA Tour events of the year: Eleven trucks are needed to carry all the production equipment, cables, cameras, and TV monitors and these had to be loaded in Maui Tuesday evening – thanks to severe wind that had delayed the tournament three days – put on a barge and transported to Oahu. It’s a trip of approximately 100 nautical miles from Maui to Oahu but because seas were exceedingly rough, the barge could only travel at 6-8 knots.

In a perfect world, “we have Monday through Wednesday to set up,” Roy said, but while the setting may be a slice of paradise the chore was anything but idyllic. As it is, TGC was going to lose Monday, because that was the scheduled day to finish the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Resort.

“It was going to be a tight set-up no matter what,” Roy said, “so when the weather started going from bad to worse . . . “

Well, it was panic-button time, to be honest, but Roy never did reach for it. Possibly explaining why he’s so heralded in his field, Roy pulled his team together and pretty much spoke this reality: It was going to be very, very tough, but it could be done. Letting the PGA Tour work out the contractual stuff with Hyundai, which clearly wanted TV coverage even if it meant going into Tuesday, and Sony, which would expect TV coverage starting Thursday, Roy focused on TGC’s work.

Now it’s safe to say that while both Hyundai and Sony officials worked things out and probably gave a little, the NBC/Golf Channel crews truly had to give it its all. The barge left Maui late Tuesday night and didn’t make landfall in Oahu until 2 p.m. Wednesday. Two hours later, they arrived at Waialae.

Roy said 130 people are with the NBC/Golf Channel team, but 35 of them are announcers, production and management. That meant 95 technicians got to work late Wednesday afternoon and were at it until after midnight, then they were back on the clock banging and hammering and building at 6 a.m. Thursday.

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Production trucks are loaded in preparation for TGC to make the transition from the Hyundai TOC to the Sony Open in less than 36 hours.

No one was under the misguided notion that it would be 100 percent ready by the first tee time at 7:10, “but what I told the guys was, just give me nine, 17, and 18 (holes) and our RF cameras – the ones that can go anywhere on the golf course – you give us that and we can do a good show today.”

When he arrived Thursday morning, that’s what Roy had, and true to his word, he and TGC/NBC delivered. By late afternoon, with Langley and Russell scripting an intriguing story of young talent delivering great stuff, Roy’s crew was on top of it all, even with many pieces of their production stage not quite in place.

If things were stacked against him, Roy pointed to the few things that worked in his favor:

One, “this is our ‘golf’ crew and they’re knowledgeable.”

Two, the main production truck “is our normal golf truck,” Roy said, and that provides for a much easier transition with such short notice.

And three, “this course (Waialae CC) is flat and compact. If it was like (the Plantation Course) at Kapalua, that would have been a problem.”

Even as Roy and his production staff worked in a chaotic harmony late Thursday, they knew not everything was at their disposal. The newest technology, the grid that focuses on a hole where drives figure to go furthest – “it’s the same technology as the first-down marker; it just super-imposes,” Roy said – wasn’t ready for Round 1, nor were some towers and sound monitoring at various holes.

But otherwise, it was a superb performance by a dedicated team – albeit a very tired team, most members of which were right back at it Friday for Round 2. By then, their sprawling stage throughout Waialae CC was fully functional and 100 percent ready.

Yet here’s the next step: The stage and all that goes with it will be stripped bare come Sunday evening and those same 11 trucks will be packed with massive amounts of gear.

Some trucks will begin the seven-day journey back to the mainland, while others will be barged over to the Big Island so that next week’s Champions Tour tournament can be broadcast. Then after the Big Island, those trucks will be barged back to Oahu for NBC’s coverage of the NFL Pro Bowl and only then will the main “golf truck” and some others be set free from Hawaii and shipped back to the mainland.

All in all, a massive undertaking. For them, at least.

For you, it’s just the point and click of your remote.

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