AUGUSTA, Ga. — This Masters has already been sensory overload, with Thursday’s action stretching into a golden twilight and then the weather-delayed first round bleeding into Friday morning, giving us wall-to-wall golf on both nines, simultaneously. Throw in the revolutionary new feature on Masters.com that allows to fans to watch every shot from every player and the golf brain this week is saturated with swings and stats, birdies and bogies, to say nothing of dopamine.
But at this Masters unlike any other one new feature has been particularly mind-blowing: the drone shots. We are so intimately familiar with Augusta National it has been thrilling and disorientating to see it from an entirely new perspective, as if we’re Bobby Jones his ownself peering down from the heavens.
“The first time I saw those shots it was like, Whoa, what is that?” says ESPN broadcaster Scott Van Pelt, who is leading the network’s Masters coverage. “It’s like seeing photos of your house from a helicopter — you recognize it even though it looks so different. What a cool perspective.”
Even the jaded golf cognoscenti, which reflexively criticizes most things about the televised coverage, were swooning. “These drone shots of Augusta in November are making my knees weak,” tweeted @TwoInchesShort. The No Laying Up Twitter account declared the visuals to be “absolute filth.”
The overheads throw into sharp relief the intimacy of Augusta National’s routing and the graceful way fairways emerge from the pines. The fall foliage also seems to pop more from the air.
There are two drones bringing viewers all of these images. (The overhead shots on number 16 are from the Fly Cam, which is mounted on cables, much like you see above NFL fields.) These are not the kind of drones you buy at the mall for your teenager; one security guard at the Augusta National clubhouse who saw them arriving by flatbed trucks calls them “big ol’ things” with a wingspan of five or six feet. (Augusta National declined to provide any details about the make, model or specifications of the drones.)
The Par-3 Course is serving as the launch site. Early on Thursday morning the drones were hovering at treetop height but everyone from Tiger Woods to Twitter users watching at home noted the distracted buzzing from the machines. On Friday the drones were much higher in the sky, reducing the noise but not the beauty of the visuals.
It has yet to be decided if the drones are merely a one-off for an unusual Masters or if they will become a regular part of future coverage. But one thing is already certain. Says Van Pelt, “Everyone loves the shots.”