Until recently, golf fans watching PGA Tour events on television have always relied on the cameraman to track the golf ball in flight. Depending on the weather conditions, it was sometimes challenging to see the little white ball flying through the sky. It’s only been in the last few years that new technology has dramatically changed the viewing experience in watching professional golf tournaments. What is that technology and how do they track golf balls on television?
How television tracked the golf ball in the past
Since golf made its television debut at the 1954 U.S. Open, viewers have been able to watch the game and see how the world’s best perform on a consistent basis. Those early days of broadcasting were rudimentary compared to broadcasts seen today, and it’s due in large part to Frank Chirkinian, who is known as the “father of televised golf.”
Chirkinian first directed the 1958 U.S. Open, and his presentation of the event caught the eyes of CBS. He joined the network in 1959, stayed until 1996, and made a whole slew of advances in between. Among the first innovations, he strategically positioned numerous microphones around the golf course to pick up tournament sounds such as golfers’ conversations.
In addition, he also showed as many golf shots as possible, which included cutting from player to player in an attempt to maintain a high tempo for the broadcast. He also introduced high-angle cameras mounted in trees, towers, and on blimps. His decisions revolutionized the golf broadcast and made it a much more enjoyable experience for the casual golf fan watching at home.
How other sports use technology
In the last 20 years, the technology used in television broadcasts of sports has radically changed. Football has added the first-down line you can see on every play. Baseball has added the strike zone superimposed on the screen to identify whether a pitch is a ball or strike. One of the most impressive advances in technology appeared in tennis back in 2006.
That’s when Hawk-Eye instant-review technology made it’s Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open. What made it impressive was its ability to accurately track a ball traveling at speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour and identify precisely where it landed on the court. It was a game-changer, literally.
The technology tracks a tennis ball’s path by compiling images from the 10 high-speed video cameras strategically placed at different locations around the court. When the process finishes in a matter of seconds, the software presents an image on the jumbo-sized screen court-side, which is seen by the live audience and those watching at home.
How do they track the golf ball on television?
The same year Hawk-Eye technology debuted at the U.S. Open in tennis, Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Forsgren developed ProTracer, a software that tracks a golf ball and its flight. In 2016, it was rebranded Toptracer when Topgolf purchased it.
The proprietary technology works similar to Hawk-Eye in that there are strategically-placed cameras that track the shot, then send that data back to the sensors, which then convert that into an on-screen graphic seen by the television audience. While that single advance in technology has completely changed the way people watch golf, the company has continued to push forward with other revolutionary additions.
New advances in the technology now include the ability to provide real-time shot analytics, like ball speed, apex, curve, carry, and more. Not surprisingly, what’s become popular on television, has become popular for the average golfer who can take advantage of the technology at Topgolf facilities as well as golf ranges around the nation.
For years golf fans have watched in amazement as the advances in technology have radically changed the game to the point where players can hit balls distances never before seen much less imagined. Now those same fans are the beneficiaries of technology that allows them to see those amazing feats and then marvel at the incredible numbers that show up on their screen.