It’s less than a minute before the Golf Channel goes live with first-round coverage from Firestone Country Club on Thursday and CBS’ production truck is buzzing. More than 20 people have jammed into a trailer about 30 feet in length and filled with monitors and switches.
At the center of the noise is Lance Barrow, the coordinating producer for the Bridgestone Invitational. Barrow is CBS’ lead producer for NFL telecasts and has worked multiple Super Bowls, but right now he’s more concerned with the six monitors in front of him following Tiger Woods’ every step. CBS and the Golf Channel share coverage of the weeklong event.
Actually, Barrow has 21 monitors in front of him. Woods’ face is on six of them.
Woods’ return to golf this week is a big deal. It’s Barrow’s job to bring the story home.
“This is something you wish you have every week,” Barrow said. “This is Tiger’s first tournament in many weeks. Not only is that big for the golf world, but I think the sports world and casual fans are interested in today and trying to figure out what he ends up doing.”
The opening minutes of the telecast are devoted to Woods. The show begins sharply at 2 p.m. with a live look at Woods’ approach shot early in his round. A few minutes later, the truck is rolling footage of the news conference Tuesday when Woods explained his decision to split with longtime caddie Steve Williams.
As video of the news conference rolls, Barrow is searching for his next shot.
“I’d love to see something of Steve,” Barrow says. On cue, the telecast returns from the news conference with a shot of Williams walking up the fairway and Adam Scott’s bag on his shoulder.
Golf doesn’t have the walk-off home runs of baseball, the buzzer-beaters of basketball or the punishing hits that make the NFL so electric, but Barrow still describes it as the most challenging.
“Golf is the hardest sport to put on television because you’re basically covering 18 stages at one time,” he said. “There’s more than one ball, no one ever stops playing, nobody has numbers on their back and there’s no boundaries.”
During a football broadcast, producers can use a timeout to review footage and find a highlight with which to return from a break. Not so in golf.
“You can’t have Jim Nantz yell down from the tower and ask Tiger, ‘Hold on, we’ve got 15 seconds before we’re back from commercial,’ ” Barrow said.
Instead, golfers play on, and the cameras do their best to capture everything. Associate director Mark Dibbs, an Ohio native, is in touch with the spotters on the course. He sits to Barrow’s left and calls out to him the pertinent information.
Dibbs alerts Barrow to first-round leader Scott’s birdie putts on Nos. 2 and 6. If Barrow is busy with a live shot elsewhere, cameras catch the putt for later use.
CBS will use between 21 and 25 cameras this week, including eight hand-held cameras. Two of those are focused on Woods’ first round, yet the crew still can’t get a clean shot of Woods on one of the greens.
Steve Milton, working as Barrow’s director, wants the camera to pull away from the green slowly so viewers can get a sense of how long a putt Woods is facing. But his new caddie, Bryon Bell, isn’t cooperating.
“Bryon Bell learned quickly to stand in front of the cameras,” an irritated Milton said.
Working in tandem
Milton sits to the right of Barrow. Both men sit in the center of the trailer, separated by a laptop showing the leaderboard. Barrow is the storyteller, and Milton is the illustrator. It is his job to display the images and graphics that support the message Barrow wants to get across.
When Woods’ playing partner, Darren Clarke, eagled No. 8 by holing out from 184 yards, Milton shouts with excitement. He wants shots of the crowd, Clarke’s reaction and finally replays of the shot. Technical director Scott Sickler sits to Milton’s right. It’s his job to keep up and hit all the right switches to give Milton the looks he wants. The broadcast will use the replays going into and coming out of the break.
As cameras show Clarke taking a long, joyous walk up the fairway, Barrow talks through his headset and into the ears of play-by-play announcer Terry Gannon and color commentator Nick Faldo. Barrow wants them to talk about how beloved Clarke is both here and in Europe, where he just won the British Open three weeks ago.
Within seconds, Gannon sets up a question for Faldo about Clarke’s popularity.
“There’s so much action in golf,” Barrow said later. “It may not look that way when you’re watching, but you’re basically telling the story like you do in football. In football, you have catches and passes and blocks. In golf, you’re going from one hole to another and you’re trying to make it into a competition. You’re trying to put these puzzle pieces together and if you get one piece out, you get yourself in trouble.”
Thursday’s telecast isn’t without its bumps. When cameramen are anxious to scramble for the next shot a little too quickly, Barrow barks out “hold your shots!”
When Barrow calls for a replay of Lucas Glover’s birdie putt, the video isn’t backed up far enough to get up a graphic about Glover. Instead, his swing begins as soon as the screen cuts to him, angering Barrow.
“That was weak!” he shouts.
Barrow began with CBS Sports in 1975 while he was still a college student at Abilene Christian in Texas. He got his start as a spotter/researcher for golf coverage. He has served in virtually every capacity of the network’s golf coverage and has won eight Emmys for his work, which spans from golf and football to college basketball, college football, auto racing and the Olympics.
The combined effort to televise a golf tournament is both massive and exhausting. CBS brings about 130 employees to Akron, then hires another 30 or so locals who serve as spotters and scorers.
Among those 130 workers is a USGA rules official, who is employed by CBS and sits in the truck behind Barrow in case a rules question arises.
It takes up to seven tractor-trailers to televise the four-day event. The trailers began arriving at Firestone last Wednesday and will stay through Sunday before heading off for the next destination. CBS’ compound encompasses the southwest corner of Firestone, hidden behind the fairway on No. 15.
The production trailer that houses Barrow and Milton is actually the lead NFL trailer. CBS’ regular golf trailer is already in Atlanta preparing for next week’s PGA Championship.
The telecast spans four hours and successfully covers highlights from the morning round while devoting ample time to Woods and Clarke. The telecast wraps at 6 p.m., and the crew’s day is complete. It will reconvene at 9:30 a.m. today with a crew call to get ready to do it all again.
Woods will begin the day tied for 18th. His former caddie is in the lead with his new golfer. Another day, another storyline for television.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.