CBS made plenty of strides with their golf coverage last year, and 2023 has only further demonstrated their commitment to refreshing American golf presentation.
Sunday’s final round coverage at Pebble Beach included yet another innovation, with technology designed to predict where tee shots would land on one of Pebble’s iconic collection of par 3s.
Jim Nantz set it up accordingly, with the final group of leaders serving as the inaugural test:
Nantz set it up as tech designed to predict where the ball will “come to rest”, which obviously wasn’t the case. When I heard him say that I was really intrigued; could whatever launch monitor and other tools at their disposal somehow model spin rate to the point that it could predict where balls would end up after backspin on the ground?
That answer was no, but that’s not that big of a deal. The other two shots went off similarly smoothly for the new feature.
The immediacy of the readout is fun. You can hear new CBS lead analyst Trevor Immelman note after Justin Rose’s approach that it went three-for-three in predicting where shots would impact the green, which is certainly an impressive bit of broadcasting technology.
So, hey, a new bit of broadcast tech that helps the viewer know what’s happening? All good, right?
Well. It’s complicated.
Ordinarily, yes, do whatever possible to remove filter from an event and give viewers as much information as possible. That’s what made things like CBS talking to Max Homa throughout an entire hole so enjoyable. Golf presentation has seen similar innovations as well, especially with the more ubiquitous use of a shot tracer line.
This would at first glance seem like a natural extension of that, helping viewers get the same sort of information that a fan with a good vantage point at the course would also have.
The problem, though, is that this is almost too accurate. Assuming the hit rate is sustainable (and the fact that it was able to be as good as it was on a very windy day at Pebble Beach suggests it probably is), it’s possible it actually serves as more of a spoiler than anything.
Golf broadcasts, in general, are a bit light on action. That’s not the broadcast’s fault all the time, though; golf, itself, is a weird sort of sport in that sense. If you play eighteen holes over 3-5 hours, the amount of time spent either swinging or with the ball in motion is absurdly small. For a tournament broadcast, obviously there’s the chance to show multiple players, but one of the only real bits of suspense comes when the ball is in flight and we don’t know how close it’s going to land to the target.
Obviously the shot tracer gives a bit of that away, but no more than fans who could see the ball in-person would have, and it’s not nearly as precise. The tracer provides context that enhances the presentation. This tool, though, might end up doing too much, essentially serving as the “fast-forward to end of shot” option I used to speed through rounds on the old Tiger Woods games.
Do we want this on 12 at Augusta or is it more dramatic not knowing? Either way, fun new innovation from @GolfonCBS @attproam pic.twitter.com/fEP4JaApT9
— Geoff Shackelford (@GeoffShac) February 5, 2023
It’s hard, though, to criticize a network for taking this kind of chance and looking to help reduce the staidness of golf viewing. And it’s undeniably cool to imagine seeing a dot pop up right near the flagstick (say, next week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open stadium hole) and knowing that something really cool might happen.
There are strong arguments on both sides here, and it might require seeing it in action a few more times to form a full opinion. Regardless, though: credit CBS again. Better to have a new feature to debate than stick with an obsolete presentation setup.