KAPALUA - By 8:30 a.m. Saturday, more than two hours before Ryan Palmer hit the first shot of the Mercedes-Benz Championship's third round, the 14th hole of the Kapalua Plantation Course had already seen a ton of action.
No. 14 is the site of the Golf Channel's temporary ''television compound'' and headquarters for the production team.
Simply setting up the site took 40 people five full days, and that was just the beginning of the job.
STARR BEGLEY photo
Nick Faldo, Kelly Tilghman and Mark Rolfing get ready for Saturday’s Golf Channel telecast from the Kapalua Plantation Course. The network is covering all four rounds of the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
The network's 155-person crew has been working since 6 a.m. each day coordinating, planning and organizing for the round ahead. A typical shift for the production crew doesn't end until after 7 p.m.
According to Mark Rolfing, Kapalua resident and golf analyst for NBC and the Golf Channel, the setup is actually ''medium-sized'' - hard to believe, with the trailers, long line of golf carts designated for the crew, miles of cable and enormous satellite dish.
''At the U.S. Open or the Ryder Cup you would see something probably three or four times this big,'' Rolfing said. ''This is a three-unit production facility.''
Covering the PGA Tour's season-opening event, which is scheduled to conclude today, is one of the tougher tasks of the year.
''Plantation Course is a unique site, probably the most difficult on the PGA Tour,'' Rolfing said. ''I'd say because it's so big. This entire parcel is probably 750 acres. It's huge. Waialae Country Club (site of the Sony Open) next week is probably less than 200 and flat.''
The Golf Network is using 18 cameras - 10 on towers, seven hand-held and one in the interview area - and more than a mile and a half of cable.
All cables are eventually connected to the main production unit, a crowded trailer with over 100 screens depicting various camera angles and views.
The production unit is where the shots are chosen and sent to the uplink - a large piece of equipment that sends information from Earth to a satellite, which then sends it to viewers' televisions.
Brandt Packer, the producer, and Steve Beim, the director, choose who and what will be seen, and when.
''I'll kind of decide where we're going to go and what players to see and Steve decides exactly what that's going to look like, which cameras to actually pick so we're working together the whole time,'' Packer said. ''Steve's talking to the cameramen, the audio. I'm talking more to the production side, to the announcers.
"In golf, you can't get to all the shots at once, whereas football, basketball, baseball, everything's there. For us, you go to a player live and then you record players.''
While the production team is tucked behind cameras and computer screens, the broadcasters have the faces that viewers recognize most.
During this week's tournament, Rolfing is part of a three-person team that also includes six-time major champion Nick Faldo and Kelly Tilghman, while Rich Lerner is handling interviews.
Faldo, Rolfing and Tilghman broadcast from a studio off the ninth hole with the course and Pacific Ocean behind them.
The view is really the only luxury item in the plywood-floor studio, which is basically a big box on scaffolding lined with soundproofing material and covered in wires.
The conversation among Tilghman, Rolfing and Faldo right before going on-camera was not just about golf. They speculated about the change in today's schedule due to weather, poked fun at each other and did Dudley Moore impressions, of which Tilghman's were the best.
Faldo was clearly the ham of the group, telling jokes, requesting ''fresh-squeezed water'' and sneaking in a sandwich minutes before going live.
''All he does is eat,'' said Tilghman, ''Look, he's got carbs in his hair.''
Jeanine Thomason, who handles audio, picked crumbs out of Faldo's hair right before the cameras started rolling.
Once on the air, it was all professional golf commentary.
According to Thomason, the trio is usually together six hours before airtime to prepare and rehearse.
Lerner, who also writes a column for thegolfchannel.com, was stationed in the interview tent Saturday.
''My father owned a driving range in Pennsylvania. I should have been a better player than I turned out to be given the fact that my father owned a driving range and I had all the balls I could possibly hit. Problem is, we also had a pinball room and I was more dedicated to Donkey Kong and Galaga than I was to learning how to hit a 5-iron,'' said Lerner, who joined the Golf Channel in 1997 and averages 26 weeks of travel per year. ''The Golf Channel was just a perfect marriage for me as someone who loves broadcast journalism and golf.''
Like his colleagues, Lerner is a character and spent some of his downtime reminiscing about one of his favorite sports growing up - professional wrestling.
''George 'The Animal' Steele was hairy. Hairier than Bruno (Sammartino),'' Lerner said. ''But who didn't tune in to see him take a bite out of a turnbuckle? He was a teacher from what I understand. The mild-mannered teacher, George 'The Animal' Steele.''
A subject that Lerner was serious about was his love for Maui.
''The hospitality of the people here has been amazing,'' he said. ''This is pretty high on the list here, and I know that sounds like I'm sucking up to the readers on Maui, but I start the season off with my wife on this trip and we get to kick back a little before the season kicks in.''
The Golf Channel first began broadcasting in 1995, reaching about 15 million homes. The number now is approximately 80 million.
''I'm going to say when Comcast bought the Golf Channel it was a turning point,'' Rolfing said.
''They really injected cash, people, commitment. In order to draw big sponsors and get good ratings, you've got to have the reach. There were a lot of skeptics, but it has worked.''
The channel has changed the sport's fan base, Rolfing said.
''In a lot of ways, the Golf Channel is attracting a totally new audience to the game in general,'' he said. ''I think that what it's done is that it's personalized players more because there's more time to do it. If it was only the networks, you wouldn't have time to do what the Golf Channel has time to do with, say, Boo Weekley. People wouldn't know who Boo Weekley is; they wouldn't understand what kind of guy he is. When people who like that type of person see Boo Weekley, it encourages them to take up the game.''