ESPN takes to the skies for The Open
Sandwich: As well as the forest of cranes and towers that greeted visitors to Royal St George’s over the weekend as they trudged their way from the station over the Kent marshland, ESPN truly reached for the sky during this year’s Open and used a fixed wing aircraft to capture the ball follows.
“I think the single biggest improvement we’ve made here is with the aeroplane and it’s so much more effective here than in the States because there are no trees and you can see the entire course,” comments Bill Lacy, Senior VP Production at IMG Media. “You don’t get that panorama in the States unless you’re on some desert courses.”
Indeed, the Cessna Caravan that ESPN is using – a large aircraft, usually used for parachuting, and crucially single-engined to give a more stable platform – is perhaps even more of a fixture in the sky than the cranes as it runs endless ovals in its task of lining up behind the leading golfers just as they tee off.
“We have a side-mount Flair system in there, and though it took rather a while to get all the proper certifications done, it’s done now and it’s great,” says Lacy. “The pilot can fly it as slowly as 50mph – making it almost like a helicopter when it’s working upwind. It’s very quiet and you get some great shots out of it.”
The camera is running a 40:1 lens with a 2x extender and the aircraft flies in four hour shifts. Three pilots rotate in and out of it, with two in the air at any one time: one flying it and paying attention to the action on the ground so they know which holes to be lining up with, and the other dealing with Air Traffic Control and watching for other aircraft.
“A helicopter or blimp might be better for ball follows, but no organisation in the world is going to let you fly a helicopter over their course when people are playing,” says Lacy. “To my knowledge we’re the only people that have used a fixed wing aircraft to do ball follows.”