FORT WORTH, Texas — Jim Nantz will be alone in the broadcast booth when the PGA Tour resumes its schedule Thursday. That’s not the only voice CBS Sports wants to hear at Colonial.
In announcing the broadcast and production plans for the return to golf, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said the network would have what Nantz dubbed a “confession cam.” Players would walk into a tent during the round and talk briefly into a remote camera.
McManus also said the network has been working more aggressively to have players wear microphones, and that CBS already has received commitments from some players.
“There’s probably a greater appreciation for wanting to contemporize golf coverage,” McManus said Monday on a conference call. “Players are beginning to realize they can play a real role in making the product more interesting at home.”
Nantz, who typically has analyst Nick Faldo at his side in the 18th hole tower, put the onus on the players to liven golf broadcasts and help expand the audience.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the game … to go before a sports-starved nation and have a chance to create a wider fan base than it’s ever been before,” Nantz said. “A lot has to be personality driven. We need to hear from the players. It’s something that’s not obtrusive. It’s an opportunity for players to invest in their own game.”
The tour resumes with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, the first competition in 90 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down sports worldwide. Golf is the second major sport to resume behind motorsports.
CBS is doing its part of reduce health risks with a production crew that McManus said will be roughly half of what it is for a normal PGA Tour event, with operations such as graphics and video shading in six locations.
Faldo will be at Golf Channel studios in Orlando, Florida, along with Frank Nobilo and Ian Baker-Finch, who usually are in towers on the course. The other talent at Colonial will be Dottie Pepper and Mark Immelman as on-course reporters.
There will be smaller production trucks spread across the compound to promote social distancing. Nantz will call the action all four days, as the same production will be used for the weekday coverage shown on Golf Channel.
Television has been lobbying for years to get players to wear microphones, and players generally have resisted because of either the burden of wearing additional equipment or not wanting all their comments to be broadcast, no matter how many editing safeguards are in place.
Mics were used for a pair of made-for-TV exhibitions last month, with high praise in the second match involving Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. That was more entertainment than sport, and there was two-way communication, at times featuring Charles Barkley. McManus said to replicate that in a PGA Tour event was impractical.
But he was bullish on “Inside The Ropes,” in which a small tent would be erected just off one of the tees for players to go into and answer a question printed on a card. There would be no one else in the tent and the producer would work the interview into the broadcast instead of it being live.
“I want this to be expressed — ‘Guys, we need your help. We’re not asking for a lot,’” Nantz said. “If you had a chance to hear from 30 players in the field, you can’t imagine what a difference that could make to our broadcast. All they have to do is walk over and talk into a confession cam. We need the players’ help.”
Nantz faces what he calls “one of the great challenges I’ve seen in my 35 years.” He won’t be going to the compound or even the clubhouse, just straight to the 18th tower, and then back to his hotel. And he’ll be calling action at an event with no spectators, a policy of the PGA Tour for five straight tournaments until the Memorial on July 16-19.
As quiet as golf is meant to be, noise on the course is underrated, particularly on Sunday.
“You use that ambient noise as a measuring stick of where you’re supposed to take your voice,” Nantz said. “Golf has the reputation of being a whisper sport. There also are many times where a key shot is made, a putt is hole … the energy in the crowd is there and you’re playing off it.”
Nantz also plans a somber start to the broadcast to take in the pulse of the country, first from the pandemic, lately from the civil unrest that has led to nationwide protests stemming from the police killing of George Floyd.
“I consider this to be perhaps the most important moment in our country in my lifetime,” the 61-year-old Nantz said. “We have to get this right. We can’t let this opportunity pass. I hope to express that at the top” of the broadcast.