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Get In the Hole: Broadcast RF take golf POV to new level at British Masters

Get In the Hole: Broadcast RF take golf POV to new level at British Masters


Adapted from an article by Will Strauss for SVG Europe

Sky Sports used its coverage of the British Masters golf tournament to trial Hole Cam, a miniature camera system that provided a live feed via RF from inside a golf hole.

Installed on the 18th green of the Close House course in Northumberland, the innovation made use of a specially extended cup featuring a modified Domo Tactical Nano transmitter and a Marshall Electronics camera. When used during coverage of short putts it was capable of capturing action of the player taking the shot as well as the ball as it entered the hole.

Hole Cam was developed in conjunction with Broadcast RF and is being touted by both companies as a ‘world’s first’.

Source of inspiration

The inspiration for Hole Cam came from David Randall, a Sky Sports golf producer, who spotted a photograph in a magazine apparently taken from within a golf hole. Attracted by the drama it offered, he suggested the idea of a live video shot to sports technical manager Brian Naylor. The challenge then was to firstly ensure it was technically possible and, if it was, to get buy-in from the rest of the production team.

Having explored other options, Naylor approached Broadcast RF, floating the idea of inserting a camera inside the metal cup that sits inside the hole itself. But while technically getting a transmitter and a camera inside the cup and getting a signal out again was a challenge, there were also golfing hazards to negotiate.

“We discovered that the most important thing we needed to do was to satisfy the officials at any event and the green keeper in particular,” explained Naylor. “The greens are hallowed turf that we cannot touch so digging a trench was definitely out of the question. Getting the signal out of the hole was a challenge too as radio frequencies don’t work terribly well underground.”

Chris Brandrick, commercial director of Broadcast RF, part of the Euro Media Group that also owns CTV, was set the challenge of making it work technically and within the boundaries of the sport’s guidelines.

“We did think Brian was a bit crazy at first,” he admitted, but once his engineers had spent some time mulling it over, they came up with a plan.

Unable to change the diameter of the cup within the regulation size hole, and required to have nothing protruding upwards, they opted to extend its depth, making it eight inches long rather than the usual six. This additional two inches allowed enough space to install the Nano transmitter.

Another big hurdle was battery life. With such a small space available, big batteries were not an option. And, as the cup cannot be removed during the day’s play to change or re-charge batteries, it became crucial to devise a way of extending or conserving power. This is where the company’s experience of having installed miniature cameras on road and track bikes came in useful.

“We needed a data system that would remotely turn the camera on and off,” explained Brandrick. “That was the key. We used the software that we developed in-house for all of our POV systems. We turn it on only when we need to so the battery can be small enough to exist in such as small space.”

To get buy-in from production, Naylor mocked up a Hole Cam shot using a wired camera connected to a video monitor. This proved to be a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment. ”When you try to describe it, you think what is the point?,” he explained. “But when you see it and you go through the scenario of taking the flag out, putting the flag in, looking into the hole, seeing the ball trickle around the edge, production could see the value and were quite excited about the prospect.”

Before taking a working version of Hole Cam to Newcastle for the British Masters, Brandrick did a test run at his local golf course, Wildernesse Golf Club in Sevenoaks, where the green keeper allowed him to test the digging and installation process.

Hole Cam was installed on the Wednesday (27 September) with the green keeper being charged with inserting the modified cup into the hole.

The final hurdle was efficiently getting the signal from the cup to the OB truck. For this, a vast network of receivers had been installed around the 18th green at Close House. Two antennas were high on a crane, two more on a five-metre camera hoist and a further two sets of two antennas on the grandstand, creating a horseshoe of receive antennas.

“We got such little sniffs of RF from eight inches underground, in a metal cage, going directly up, that we really had to hone in on the receive side of the kit,” said Brandrick. “We were learning every day. By the end of the tournament, we had a lot more knowledge and we will be able to refine it.”

With the current RF set-up as it is, it would be impossible to add Hole Cam to all 18 holes but, with some modifications to transmitter positioning, it may be possible to increase the number of holes in future if required, he added.

Sky Sports head of golf Jason Wessely, who was making use of Hole Cam shots during live coverage on Thursday (28 September), told SVG Europe that initially he was fairly sceptical about what it could offer. “At first I wondered what you could possibly see,” he said. “But I was very encouraged. It’s not just a camera looking up at the sky. You see a face coming down towards the hole, you see a hand picking out the ball: you see more than you think you should do.”

Wessely believes it adds a new dimension to simple putts. “The viewer needs to see the ball go in the hole,” he added, “but one of the challenges that golf has, as a viewing experience, is that you see a lot of boring short putts, a lot of one-foot tap-ins and the professionals get them 99 times out of 100. But if you cut live to the ball going into the hole [from Hole Cam] it gives you another perspective.

“When players start to realise there is a camera down the bottom of the hole, they might play up to it. That will be the next stage. It is a tiny piece of the puzzle but it shows we are constantly innovating.” This thinking was borne out when Irish golfer Paul Dunne chipped in from off the green on the final hole to win the British Masters on Sunday afternoon: when he bent down to retrieve his ball from the cup he gave the Hole Cam a thumbs-up and a grin.

Sky Sports also used Hole Cam for replays when the ball ‘horseshoes’ around the lip of the hole and either falls in or pops out.

Extract from Irish Times – Written by Mary Hannigan

Sky gave us one last glimpse of their hole-cam at the 18th, replaying the moment Paul Dunne’s fingers descended in to it to retrieve his ball, lovingly tapping the flag pole for assisting his chip-in.

Generally, though, hole-cam was a little frightening, especially when, say, you saw a decidedly grumpy Ian Poulter, who’d battled mobile phones not switched to silent all weekend, rummage around the hole for his ball, before tossing it at his caddy in a “let’s get the **** outta here” kind of way.

Shane Lowry’s hole-cam was less aggressive, him finishing seventh and therefore reasonably happy with his weekend’s work. And if you didn’t already have enough love for the man, his celebrations when Paul’s chip disappeared in to that 18th hole were a very lovely thing, him punching the air so hard it could no longer breathe.


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