They weigh about 25 pounds.
"By far, that's the question we get asked the most by people on the course," says minicam operator George Rothweiler, who is 29, looks a little like James Caan, talks like Sonny Corleone and is known around CBS as the Hulk. "The other one is, 'How much do you make?' "
If a minicameraman had time for small talk, and he doesn't, he might say, oh, about $60,000 a year, with overtime. That doesn't include expenses on the road--which is about 200 days a year, including five this week at Congressional Country Club for the Kemper Open.
There are some 70 CBS technical and production people lurking around Congressional this week, plus two control-room trucks, several dozen miles of video and telephone cable, six announcers and 11 cameras to televise the weekend's final two rounds (WDVM-TV-9, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday). Excluding the Masters, which was shot this year by a mere 27 cameras, the Kemper is a typical CBS golf date.
Ever more typical are four of those 11 cameras: the minicams, lightweight, microphone - equipped cameras that follow, and some say pester, the pros from tee to green.
"The minicams are why we've been able to stretch our coverage out on a normal telecast," said Frank Chirkinian, CBS' explosive, occasionally expansive golf producer, who has steadily increased the number and emphasis of hand-held cameras over most of the last decade.
"More importantly, from a director's standpoint, they give us the subjective view, much more so than before," Chirkinian said. "We get to see things as the player sees them."
Rothweiler, known as Hulk because he lifts weights and works with too many other Georges, will be under one of those minicams this weekend, as will Bob Jamieson, Bob Welch and Dave Finch.
They are casual ambassadors. Directors instruct and cajole and scream at them through headsets--and Chirkinian is known for his use of "lots of hyphenated words," as he said puckishly, "but only for effect." But the minicam operator is essentially on his own out there, walking evenly--and generally sideways--between disgruntled players and disenfranchised spectators, one eye open for balanced, well-composed video, the other for ill-placed caddies, ravines and snags in the cable.
As a group, the first thing you notice is that their waistlines hover around the same place as their ages--somewhere near 30. As a rule, they'll get to know the hotel's health club director better than the bartender. Unlike the tower cameraman, who must be visually fit, a minicam operator has to be fit, period.
"You get out there and hump that mini on your back for 16 tournaments, I'll guarantee you'll be a flat belly," said Chirkinian, whose minicameramen, he said, are "handpicked," all having spent at least five years on the PGA circuit with Chirkinian and director Bob Dailey.
At Congressional, where CBS will cover the 13th through 18th holes, there are 19 "drops," or cable outlets, which make "leap-frogging" possible. A minicam operator can cover a birdie putt at 13, unplug his camera, board a cart with his cable man (who keeps his cable clear of people and play; one of them once yanked Ken Venturi off his feet), arrive at the 14th green while others cover the approach, plug into the drop there, and so on.
Chirkinian said golfers have mostly come to accept these one-eyed, two-legged creatures as part of the game--some, mostly the younger and/or more relaxed players on the tour, going as far as having regular on-air conversations with them.
"You know basically who to talk to and when not to say anything," said Finch, who, Chirkinian said, is probably the most outgoing and easily recognizable CBS crew member to the golfers.
Still, even for guys who will admit they do, after all, have pretty nice jobs, there are occasional pitfalls.
"Bob Gilder had just hit a double-eagle chip shot on the 18th at Westchester," said Finch, "and I was between him and the green, and he started to trot up to the green after the cheer went up. I was fool enough to try to keep up with him, walking straight backwards, instead of letting him go and turning.
"It wasn't a big mound, maybe six inches high, but it caught my feet. I went right down."
"You know," said Jamieson, in the tone of one who does, "everybody in that crowd just turned to the person next to them and said, at the same time, 'Hey, didja see that cameraman just wipe out?' "
The crowd that a minicam operator tends to forget--those millions at home--didn't get to see the fall. Finch was off the air at the time.