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BBC drives winning golf shots

8 March 2007

Unique images looking into the lip of a golf cup look set to become as much a part of live golf coverage as the stumpcam now is for international cricket, writes Adrian Pennington.

The BBC’s Special Camera Team, which devised the stumpcam, is reworking the technology for US group Golf Flagstick Advertising which has patented the concept of planting mini-cameras inside flagsticks.

A prototype was tested at US event the Silver Pro-Am in early February to enable Golf Flagstick Advertising to enhance coverage of poles on which it sells sponsored space.

The trial was so successful that the system could be permitted for commercial use as soon as April during the US Masters tournament provided approval is granted by the PGA Tour. The PGA disallows flagpole advertising, but it may allow host broadcaster CBS to experiment with the technology on one green.

As many as six RF cameras could be incorporated into a sleeve two inches in diameter wrapped around the flagstick. One camera would look straight down into the cup; another five would cover the green from all directions.

“It’s quite a feat of engineering,” says Paul McNeil, head of BBC Special Cameras within BBC Resources. “Our initial reaction was – you must be joking. We have to build, not only the cameras but enough batteries to drive them, into the pole. Then we have to integrate the signal into the host broadcast.”

A BBC project manager would be expected to install and manage the installation and feed during the tournament. According to McNeil the technology is straightforward but his group, which numbers only eight permanent staff, has become world renowned for its expertise in developing specialist camera applications often adapted from consumer devices.

“We can’t patent the technology since we are adapting existing technology,” says McNeill. “Instead patents are taken on its application. Golf Flagstick Advertising holds the patent for putting a camera in a flagpole, but nothing could stop us taking out a patent on cameras in a hockey-stick for example.”

If successful bulk orders for the ‘flag cam’ could follow. All profits from sales are returned to the BBC. Golfer Phil Mickelson has reportedly endorsed the flagcam’s use.

BBC Special Cameras’ most famous application is the stumpcam, now standard issue for cricket coverage. It has also put remotely-operated 360-degree cameras into rugby posts; mini-cams onboard World Rally cars and in the bullseye at archery contests. It holds a monopoly on specialised coverage for international swimming events with the introduction of an underwater camera and an HD Plungecam.

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