Live From the U.S. Open: Enhancement explosion allows 18 holes of golf-shot tracking
By: Ken Kerschbaumer
Monday, June 19, 2017 - 5:40 pm

Fox Sports’ coverage of the U.S. Open is embracing golf-ball–tracking technology in a big way. Zach Fields, SVP, graphics technology and integration, and a team working in a double-wide trailer at Erin Hills are tracking shots on all 18 holes.

“We undertook a conscious effort to be on every hole,” Fields says. “Tracing is like the yellow line in football: once the viewer sees it, they want it all the time.”

Trackman data is being integrated with FlightTrack 3D graphics

Trackman data is being integrated with FlightTrack 3D graphics

Fox Sports is using two tracking technologies: Toptracer, which relies on optical tracking, and Trackman radar. Nine tee boxes are equipped with Toptracer technology, with a custom-built CMOS sensor detecting the ball for the full duration of its flight via proprietary software. The remaining tee boxes are equipped with Trackman radar, allowing a combination of ball tracing and enhanced data.

Trackman data is also integrated with FlightTrack, a system that provides a complete 3D graphical representation of the course. The ball’s flight can be graphically laid over the representation, giving viewers an overhead view of the ball’s flight instead of simply from behind the tee box.

“Last year, we could only use it live, but now we can do seven holes on tape,” says Fields. “We have seven Trackman units that are bringing in video from the EVS servers and compositing the graphics and sending it back. You have to be able to do this on tape.”

Those seven units for live-to-tape needs are complemented by two systems that are used strictly for

Toptracer, based on optical tracking, is deployed on nine tee boxes

Toptracer, based on optical tracking, is deployed on nine tee boxes

live needs and offer data like spin rate, apex, and more. There is also a reverse tracer with the ability to show shots coming into the 15th green, as well as three roaming RF Toptracer units to provide even more flexibility in showing fairway shots on any hole.

“That hole is a short par four,” notes Fields. “The viewer will be able to see the ball coming towards them.”

Will a day arrive when shot-tracing technology will be used on every shot? It will take some work because it is currently a bit too difficult to set up for every shot, but, as it continues to be expected by viewers and the technology becomes easier to use, one can envision that day.

Touchscreen and augmented-reality technology is also in use this year, and the more traditional broadcast-graphics needs are fulfilled by 10 Vizrt units.

“In the span of four days, we are going to have 40 hours of golf coverage. It is a lot of tech, but there is also a lot of programming to cover,” says Fields. “We have also gotten better at knowing how and where to use these technologies, and the production crew buy-in is tremendous.”

When it comes to innovation, there is also the need to make sure the right technology is used for the right event. One enhancement not in use this year are green overlays showing the contours of the green. The primary reason is that the greens are not undulating enough.

“We didn’t feel it fitted in this year,” Fields explains. “It wouldn’t have as big an impact on this course.”