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Posted April 10, 2013, 7:05 pm
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Masters busy time for Golf Channel, ESPN


The cameras aren’t recording, at least for now, as workers move about.

The patio columns are brought in and the garage door-like sides are lowered. Some­one sweeps the carpet with a broom as the library’s desk is cleared of paper, a computer and anything else unsightly.

It’s time to go from one set to another – physically, it’s a play of the highest production values.

Golf Channel’s studio at Augusta National Golf Club is in its second year. Three sets – the patio that overlooks the practice facilities, the library and the fireplace – are in a studio that’s 23 feet by 25 feet.

“It’s a beautiful set and location,” Golf Channel anchorman Rich Lerner said. “It’s stunning. We’re able to sort of maximize the space here to represent different looks, but it’s in keeping with the club itself – it’s not out of character. But at the same time, it’s tastefully done.”

The crew seems in near constant motion, moving cameras and signaling which one is the target. When one set becomes the stage, the other two become work stations or the place to oversee filming.

Four 80-inch televisions are used as windows, allowing them to change based on the outside weather. Is it raining? The TVs will have it, too. Is it getting late? Time for the screens to have a sunset.

Come Sunday, that Bubba Watson visage that adorns the wall on the library section will be replaced by one of the new winner, and it’ll be done in about two hours.

The set is the perfect spot for Golf Channel, which just had its most-watched quarter ever after having the most-watched year in its 18-year history. It will provide about 70 hours of live news and coverage of this year’s Masters Tournament.

The channel also produced features leading into the tournament. One, titled “Bur­den of History,” looks at Tiger Woods’ chase of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors through the eyes of other record breakers such as Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.

Another feature is a Lerner essay on Bobby Jones, one of the co-founders of Augusta National and the Masters.

ESPN’s Masters team is also hard at work in Augusta. It is particularly proud of its one-hour special program that aired Wednesday. The big pieces were Gene Wojcie­chowski’s trip to China for a feature on 14-year old Tian­lang Guan, the youngest competitor in Masters history; Mike Tirico’s interview with Woods; and the Sport Science team’s piece on Watson’s miraculous shot at No. 10 during the 2012 playoff.

ESPN’s work isn’t strictly for TV. Mike McQuade, the vice president of production, said there will be almost as many segments exclusively for online as there are for television.

In many ways, what’s happening at ESPN in Augusta is similar to what’s going on at its headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for a SportsCenter broadcast. At the headquarters, the NBA and NFL experts are right there; in Augusta, the golf talent is here.

“We relieve the burden of the studio of the golf responsibilities,” McQuade said. “The experts are down here, and we’re helping them determine what’s making news here.”

Many members of the team have worked at the Mas­ters for years, making it easier to react on the fly – on Wednesday, for example, breaking news involved changes to Masters qualification requirements.

The day starts early; ESPN will be there to get highlights of Thursday’s honorary starters. Live coverage of the tournament will start at 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Before 3 p.m., there will be updates every 30 minutes starting at 9 a.m.

The on-air talent is actively involved. Scott Van Pelt and Andy North, a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, work alongside the production team, watching the action together. If there’s a particular shot North wants for the night’s segment, he’ll share his thoughts, and the crew will try to work it into the show.

North compared the experience to sitting and watching an event with your buddies.

The trust there can make for good television. North said there are times when the truck will throw something up for him to talk about. That eliminates the chances of a telecast feeling too rehearsed, and it makes it a little more fun.

“You can get a sense that we’re just having fun,” North said. “This is great. You’re at the Masters, you’re talking about something you love to talk about with a bunch of guys you like. How bad is that?”