Greenbrier Classic TV producer's job more like a juggling act
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - The eyes of millions will be on West Virginia this weekend when people tune in to watch the 2011 Greenbrier Classic on CBS.
But most won't give a thought to what it takes to broadcast the event from Greenbrier County to the rest of the world.
"Golf is the hardest sport to do on television," said Lance Barrow, coordinating producer with CBS Sports.
Barrow, 56, started at CBS in 1975 while he was still a junior at Abilene Christian University in his home state of Texas.
He started as an intern under legendary sports broadcaster Pat Summerall and worked his way up the ladder to become coordinating producer for golf and lead game producer for the NFL on CBS.
And it's golf that's always been the big challenge.
That's because there's no one ball for the camera to follow the whole time, nobody's wearing numbers on his back for identification, and the action - on multiple fields - never stops.
"You're basically covering 18 stages at once," Barrow said. "In other sports, you have a confined area, but in golf you cover sometimes hundreds of acres of land."
It took months of planning to pull off the first Greenbrier Classic. The experience paid off this year.
"We came here in the fall of 2009, and we surveyed the golf course," he said.
"We figured out where we were going to put the 300 to 500 men and women in the crew."
They also had to plan for where those crew members were going to stay and how they were going to fly into the area.
CBS Sports has had people on site since the first of last week setting up transmitting towers and other equipment.
In the old days, that would mean TV crews trucking in miles upon miles of cable. But in today's digital world, radio frequency signals are bounced off the dozens of communications towers placed across the Old White TPC course.
For any event, six or seven customized tractor-trailer trucks serve as a production base. One truck runs graphics, another handles sound, another processes the various camera video feeds, another handles all the digital signals bouncing off the communications towers around the course, and they all feed into the main control booth truck.
But this year's Greenbrier Classic isn't being broadcast with the CBS Sports trucks belonging to the golf crew; these are football trucks.
That's because the golf trucks were used last week for an event in Vancouver, Canada, and there was no physical way they could make the journey across the continental United States in time to set up for the tournament.
So Barrow's crew is using CBS's flagship NFL No. 1 control truck - the one that will be used in the fall for the premier game each Sunday.
"This is the largest, most expensive truck on the road today," Barrow said.
And once the production team kicked off live coverage on the Golf Channel at 2:30 p.m Thursday, activity in the truck moved to a near-frenzy.
"You're always thinking," Barrow said. "You're doing live television - you've got split seconds to decide what to do. You can't stop and decide, 'Oh, let's go back and do that again.' It's live television; there's no edit button."
He knows he'll have millions of critics out there making sure they do it right.
"We will broadcast this tournament to 206 countries around the world starting on Thursday and ending on Sunday until we have a champion," Barrow said.
But Barrow said the tournament at The Greenbrier would be a bit easier because there are so many angles that can be used to fill out the coverage.
"Not every place we go to has the history and tradition of The Greenbrier in and of itself," he said. "So you start doing a lot of research into everything you're going to put into the telecast, and by the time you get here, you're pretty much ready to go.
"We're focused right now on showcasing not just golf and the tour, but the resort, the charities and what the impact this great event has on not just The Greenbrier, but the towns and surrounding area in West Virginia and Virginia."
There's one thing he refuses to discuss: the weather.
"I don't ever talk about weather because I don't want to jinx us," he said.
Right now there's only a 30 percent chance of rain on Sunday, and Barrow doesn't want to tempt fate on that going up.
Should the weather hold, Barrow said his CBS crews - which are sprawled over a lot just south of the main entrance - won't be on the grounds come Monday.
"Our crew is so quick in putting things up and taking it down," he said.
"Everyone we have here will be out of here Sunday night, probably around 9 o'clock."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.