Aidan Bradley's Golf Photography Blog
My name is Aidan Bradley, I am a golf course photographer. Originally born and educated in Cork, Ireland, I presently reside in Santa Barbara, Calif., from where I travel to golf courses far and wide. I have been photographing golf courses exclusively for the past 25 years and I am a regular contributor to golf magazines, ad campaigns, books, and marketing materials for various layouts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Definitions of what makes a good photograph are as varied as the personalities who offer up such advice. For me the rule is very simple: Does the image stop me long enough to take a second glance or spend a few seconds reading the accompanying copy? If so, the creator has succeeded.
So how do you create such an image? It always helps if you start with something that is easy on the eye. In golf courses you have nature's very own palette with which to play. However, the secret missing ingredient is "light" and more importantly, the quality of that light. Without light you are merely documenting; with light you are creating. Early morning and late-evening light are your friends. Soft warm light is more appealing than the harsh realities of the mid-day sun. The former also helps to illustrate the undulations, shapes and textures of the course.
A very important question to ask is: "What is the purpose of this photograph?" If it is merely to document, then go ahead and point and shoot. The same applies if you wish to illustrate a certain feature of the design. However, if you want to create an image to hang over your fireplace, include in your marketing materials or submit to a magazine representing your product or facility, simple, hire a professional. However, if you don't wish to help send my kids to college I have a few more ideas that may help you.
A good golf course photograph should be like a journey and you get to tell the story. There should be a beginning, middle and end. Let's start at the end. What's the goal of the game? To put the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes. What do we use to help golfers find the hole? A flag. The flag represents the end of the journey. Rule No. 1: the flag should always be illuminated as it is the punctuation mark on the photograph. The beginning of the experience can be the tee box or 150 yards out or wherever you choose just as long as there is balance in your image. I try to incorporate as many elements in the image as possible without creating a busy scene.
Remember, it's just a walk to the flag and you get to choose how involved or how simple that stroll can be. But always try and make it inviting. With regards to equipment, just use what you are comfortable with. Analog, digital, it does not matter. Having different lenses gives you a choice in the perspective you can create in your images. The bigger the negative/slide or file size, the sharper the image should appear (in theory). I am not a big fan of special-effects filters; for me the key is simplicity.
Do you always have to photograph towards the pin? Of course not. Sometimes its fun to see from whence you have come, shooting from behind the green looking backwards to the tee box, for example. A view from the side will remind you of how many times you missed the green left or right, a position I know I've been at least twice! Don't be afraid, experiment, have fun. Someone recently asked me to give them some tips on creating a good photograph. Like the game of golf itself, start with good equipment. How do you split the fairway with your drive? Get some instruction, practice and have a little luck.
Taking good photographs is no different. These days, with digital cameras, you have no excuses. Keep shooting until you are happy. It doesn't cost you a penny. That said it helps if you avoid shooting into the sun to minimize glare. If you must do so, try and hide the sun behind a branch or some leaves. If you shoot with the sun behind your back the image will tend to be a bit flat and devoid of depth. If you must shoot in this direction, wait until the last of the sun to get a really warm image. Before you get ready to create some new photographs always check the settings on the camera.
You may have changed the ambient light settings recently to accommodate the lighting somewhere else. Failure to do so may alter the color temperature of the images. For clarity of the files always make sure you are shooting in the highest resolution mode. When in doubt about the correct exposure, bracket.
Always focus on the object of your photograph. It may help to turn off the auto-focus mode once it is initially locked in, but don't forget to turn it back on for the next shot. If shooting at less than 1/100 of a second I would recommend a tripod or find something to brace against to avoid camera shake and the subsequent soft focus in the image.
After all of the above, the only other word of advice I would tender is practice, practice, practice. It works for Tiger, it works for Padraig Harrington, it could work for you. Good luck, have fun and don't forget to experiment. In closing I would suggest that if you are serious about improving the quality of your golf course images look at what others have done. There are plenty of beautiful books and magazines that regularly illustrate the work of some very accomplished photographers, or you can even check out my website at www.golfcoursephotography.com.
Find some images that you admire and then ask: "What is it about this image that appeals to me?" That alone should help you in your quest to create better golf course images. Thank you for your ear and please keep in mind that the above is just the opinion of one Irishman.
Recently, on a return trip home from a project in Europe, the gentleman beside me in the plane asked what I did for a living. I told him I was a golf course photographer. He looked at me as if I had two heads. Seriously, he said. Honestly, I replied. I photograph grass.
Well, several Irish whiskies later, he had a better idea of how I make my spuds and butter. As he fell asleep (no hollow leg there), I started thinking about how I got to earn all these frequent flier miles.
My name is Aidan Bradley. I was born in Cork, Ireland. I will fast forward to my university days, as everything in between is littered with boiled food, miserable weather, great soups, constant day dreaming, and an abundance of Catholic priests telling me I was doomed for all eternity.
I studied Law at UCC, one of the top four universities in Ireland at that time (we only had four). During the summer break, Irish lads traditionally crossed the water to England to work on a building site. Good money to be made to ease the financial burden on our parents and stuff the coffers for the weekends entertainment. One would think after all those years as a hod carrier (a brick layers grunt man) I would have a fine manly physique. Unfortunately, you would see more muscle on a pencil!
The summer of 72, my friend and I decided to take a chance and travel to the New World to seek a real fortune. We ended up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was a time when everything was free-flowing and we still had our innocence. Upon receiving my BCL (Bloody Clever Lad) degree, I returned to New Hampshire where I taught lawn bowling (curling on grass without the broom). Word of my dexterity with a two-and-half-pound noncircular ball, my freckles and a cute Irish accent spread to the West Coast, where I was summoned to impart my skills on those who could no longer lift a tennis racket.
I spent the next two years having more fun than anyone is entitled to, flitting from the East Coast to the West and following the sun. However, I realized that this couldnt last and I should do something a little more fulfilling with my life. Alas, conscience doth make fools of us all. In August 1977, I began my studies at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif., armed with little more than a dream and a lot of determination.
In July 1980, I graduated with a BA in Photography to accompany my aforementioned BCL. For the next couple of years I did a lot of scanning and transmission electron microscopy (hi-tech photography). In the mid-80s, I moved into a studio and for the next 15 years I photographed everything from cars to computers, to clothes and food, and other products for the advertising community.
By the mid-90s it dawned on me that while I enjoyed what I did, it was devoid of passion. Some soul-searching followed and I realized that, when not working, I was usually involved in some sporting activity of which I was passionate about. These were soccer and golf.
Based on my knowledge and experience, it seemed like the golf industry offered more opportunities. The question was, what area of the golf industry could I best ply my skills.
Subsequently, I photographed clubs and other products for several golf companies. But that was no different than what I had been doing for the previous decade and a half. I gained press credentials and photographed several golf tournaments, but quickly ruled out that avenue which is a dog-eat-dog atmosphere).
A good friend secured access to a couple of courses in the San Diego area. The first course I shot was Aviara. In return for permission to photograph it, I gave the course a copy of all the images. The director of golf must have been suitably impressed as he hired me to photograph the course not once, but twice over the next two years.
My first commission, and I was hooked. Finally, I found something I wanted to do when I grew up! I put together a business plan, threw some money at a marketing campaign, and little by little, I was on my way. Here I am some 10 years later and my photography appears regularly in all the national golf magazines. I have been hired to photograph courses by some of the top management firms and my images have appeared in ad campaigns for the most recognizable of golf companies. Who says dreams cant come true? I love America (insert Italian accent).
However, that was just the beginning. Over the years I have traveled to all corners of this fine country and beyond. I have met some very interesting characters, flown in all makes of aircraft and in all sorts of weather. You would be surprised how many ways there are to make a Bloody Mary and how similar hotel rooms get to be. If you dont like airports, rental cars or bad food, this may not be the profession for you. However, if you like adventure, getting up at 4:00 in the morning, and making money is not a goal, there is always room for talented people in my chosen profession.
If there is any interest in this subject (golf course photography) and Jeff Shelley Cybergolfs editorial director doesnt burn this manuscript, I will very much enjoy sharing with you stories of flipping a golf cart upside down in a bunker in Hawaii, freeing a cart from an icy path in Oregon, and getting a cart stuck in the ocean bordering Mexico.
I also promise to talk about photographing golf courses.
Slainte, and see you soon.
Just flew from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Punta Cana. Left SB at 6 p.m. and arrived the following day in the Dominican Republic at 3.30 p.m. 21 hours later. The things I do just to photograph grass.
Had to take the "redeye" from LAX to JFK. Hoping to get a little shut eye, I decided to administer a little self-medication as I have problems sleeping on planes. I consumed six Irish whiskies, three premium beers, some of LAX's finest cuisine, and an Ambien to totally forget what I had just put into my system. That should do the trick right? NOT! All I wanted to do was hum "Danny Boy" and fall asleep. Have you ever spent five hours on a plane, moving your position every two minutes in one of those economy seats just so your neck won't freeze up in some weird position? Next time, I'm driving.
The layover in JFK wasn't too bad; just about as much time as I want to spend in the Big Apple. But as soon as everyone had boarded and we were ready for one of those rare "on-time departures," the pilot informed us of a problem. Seems like one of the in-flight recorders was short of a few Ever Ready bunnies. Bummer! We were ordered to de-plane while they shipped another gadget in from La Guardia. Adding insult to injury, we were invited to sample some of JFK'S finest cuisine while we waited. Personally, I believe they were just seeing how long it would take to get everyone off in case a San Diego State coed offended some twit by wearing a short dress and showing off her delightfully God-given amplitude.
Despite these speed bumps, we arrived in Punta Cana a few hours behind schedule. Picked up the luggage, went through Immigration, and paid the $10 entrance tax . . . only one gate left before I was to meet my contact. Then I heard, "Senor, do you have the Blue Form?" Nobody told me I had to fill out a Blue Form. It looked very complicated and extremely long. "Senor, for $5 we can fill it out for you." Hey, it's no worse than having to pay $30 for a glass of Irish whisky in Ireland. Vive la difference!
They have a lot of potholes in the roads here, making Irish roads look like an Autobahn. The people are very pleasant but they sure drive crazily. Not full-out nuts like the Portuguese - more like a Latin dance. Move a little left, move a little right, move a little left. You get the picture, they just can't figure out which side of the road to drive on. They have more moves than David Beckham on his way to the bank. I know; they're just trying to avoid the potholes.
My client has put me up in a very nice hotel. It's "all-inclusive," which means you can eat and drink all you want. It attracts people from all over the world. I pride myself on being able to pick out various nationalities based on certain parameters, but the easiest is the difference between the English and American men (accents not included).
Americans wear baseball hats. Englishmen do not. Americans wear their baseball hats backwards. Englishmen do not, since they don't wear hats. Americans invert sunglasses on their heads. Englishmen don't wear sunglasses because they always expect rain. American men order funny-sounding drinks to remind their girlfriends of something they helped her achieve once in the past year, like "orgasm." Englishmen order a gin and tonic and forget to get something for their wives. Funny people we are.
At the end of the first day of work I stopped off at the hotel bar for a nightcap. Minding my own business, pleasantly day-dreaming, I was invited . . . well encouraged . . . no, ordered to sit beside this lady. She quickly stuck some kind of lethal concoction in front of me and said everything would be okay. If you ever wanted to know who put the "F" in Frankfurter, the "W" in Wiener schnitzel, and the "S" in Sauerkraut, you guessed it . . . I was sitting beside Herr Goebel's sister.
The last time my testicles ran for cover this deep was when Father Seamus wanted me to go the Aran Islands for a one-on-one on how to become an altar boy". Needless to say, as soon as she excused herself to polish her Schnauzer, I got out of there faster than Benny Hill being chased by a Panzer unit. I have double-locked my hotel door, jammed a chair up against the knob and moved into another room. All I said was, "I shoot grass for a living." I don't think she heard the "Gr."
Next morning, under the cover of darkness, I checked out. I drove to the famed resort, Campo de Casa. Truth be known, I didn't drive, I was driven. It's a good job because if I had driven they would still be searching the sugarcane fields for me as I am directionally challenged. For anyone who has visited the Dominican Republic and ventured outside the confines of their beach-side resort, it is rather obvious that this is a very poor country. We see these images on CNN all the time and have become so jaded and content with our own lot that we don't give it a second thought. Some of these people earn somewhere between $3 to $10 a day, live in a tiny corrugated iron shack with no windows, and share their "casa" with a bunch of chickens and Borat's cow.
I was humbled by their generosity, respect and joy de vivre. Even in these meager and oftentimes squalid conditions, everyone seemed content, jovial and moved with purpose. Despite what we would consider adverse circumstances, these people just "get on with it." We would all do well to learn from this and embrace that attitude. Just deal with it and move on. I don't think there are too many shrinks in the Dominican Republic.
As I alluded to earlier, the driving in this country is nothing short of mind-boggling. It reminds one of the early ways in the Wild West. There are no laws and don't appear to be any enforcement. Just for a moment, visualize yourself in a long tube. You are swimming along with a dozen other tadpoles, winding left to right in a long samba-conga line. All of a sudden you look up and there is another conga line coming right at you. That's driving over here. The Dominicans' ability to get so close to each other and not collide is stunning. If I got that close to my wife she would have me deported for even contemplating bodily contact.
I am back in Punta Cana to finish up my last project. One of my favorite pastimes is people-watching. Sitting here in the hotel lobby bar I get to watch all the check-ins and check-outs. Meanwhile, I am constantly scouring my environment to make sure "Helga the Terrible" has not compromised my security perimeter.
Since this hotel is close to the airport, it is teeming with "flyboys" and "sky waitresses." This past evening the crew for a departing Air France flight was relaxing in the lobby awaiting a shuttle to the airport. Even in this dimly-lit environment it was obvious there were some very attractive women in my proximity. All of a sudden, as if on command, they all lit up. There is something about being intimate with a young lady who has Gauloise fumes wafting through her nasal passages that just gives me a virtual cold shower. Sorry for that less-than-glamorous image, but things are looking up as the crew from Air Sweden is inbound.
This just in: the outbound Air France crew is sitting at the bar. There are three pilots and they're all drinking beer. I poop you not. If I see any Delta pilots in here tomorrow I will personally administer a breathalyzer test. It would appear that "America's Worst" has not cornered the market on this preflight activity.
Not sure where my next adventure will take me, but I hope it will be as enjoyable, enlightening and entertaining as this one. I have emailed a head shot of Helga to the FBI, Interpol, Us Immigration and Delta Airlines. If she shows up on my doorstep, my wife will know I had more than two Cokes, my once-a-year hot flash, and couldn't resist showing her my prowess in Tiddlywinks.
Sleep well and live life large.
As we were finishing up dinner, I announced to my children that I would be gone for a day or two, as I had a new golf course to photograph. "Where are you going this time Dad," my son asked. "Florida", I replied. "But I will be in a few days."
I put my clubs in the Club Glove bag, my tripod nestling beside them. Some last-minute washing and drying of clothes and then I go through the list. Three pairs of socks, two pair of pants, three shirts, a sweater, rain gear, golf hat, and lastly, two pair of underwear (Im not a good flyer). I roll them all up like little sausages, line the sides of the bag, and make sure not to exceed 50 pounds or the United people will get another $25 for their Christmas party fund.
I arrange for the taxi to pick me up at 5 a.m., double-check my camera equipment and film, and give my wife a copy of my schedule (it makes her feel comfortable that Im not in Arizona with a Sun Devils cheerleader).
The night before I travel is never much fun. All the worst possible scenarios go through my head. Im leaving my family, so questions arise like: Who is going to feed the dog? and, What happens if California falls into ocean when Im in Florida having a fruity drink chatting with an airline hostess?
Anyway, after tossing and turning for what seems like an eternity, the alarm goes off at 4 a.m. It's Show Time!
My daughter always insists on being woken up no matter the ungodly hour so she can wave goodbye as I depart in the taxi. My heart melts, and I say to myself, if any young man as much as looks at her sideways while Im away I will find his nearest orifice to place a 7-iron. "Where to?" asks the taxi driver. "Airport please," I reply.
The United lady tells me that I dodged a bullet, that my bag only weighs 49 pounds. Have you ever noticed that the same bag can weigh 58 pounds on the return trip? Apparently, there is no uniformity in the calibration of the scales. I guess it all depends on how the Christmas fund is going.
The security person asks me to remove the contents of my pocket. Two white golf tees from Sundays round appear. They are confiscated. I am informed they are considered a potentially dangerous weapon . . . only if I stick a Titleist on top of them!
Once in the air, it's time to focus on the job ahead. A quick stop in Denver, a Fosters or Fat Tire to calm the nerves, and on to Orlando. Flying is no fun anymore. Nobody wants to talk to you. If you so much as order one of those diminutive cocktails, the stewardess looks at you as if youre an alcoholic or have designs on the Captains heavily reinforced door. Finally, a few bumps later, we arrive in the "Magic Kingdom."
I always feel grateful when my bag makes the connection. A quick jog to the Avis desk and, before I know it, Im sitting behind the wheel of a sporty new vehicle. That's where my problems begin. I am what you call in this PC world, directionally challenged. If I mean to go left, I go right. If I should go north, I go south.
This is when my blood pressure is always the highest and I can be seen through the car windows screaming at myself like a madman. The one that always gets me is when the directions say to go north, but the signs only give an east or west choice. It reminds me of the old joke, "Why do they call them apartments when theyre all stuck together?" I digress, on to the golf course.
Upon arrival at the course I introduce myself to the director of golf or the golf pro. He or she makes arrangements for access to a golf cart and points me in the direction of the first tee. When it comes to introducing myself to the beverage cart lady, I am on my own. My modus operandi (time permitting) is to go around the course once or twice and scout for possible photo opportunities. When the time arrives, usually about two hours prior to sunset, it's time to go to work.
Assuming good weather and Ive done my job right, I have several images "in the can" and am half-way home. Now it's time to challenge myself again. Let's point my little Avis friend in the direction of the hotel, try not to get lost again, and make it there before last call. After check-in and finding my room, I hide my camera equipment in the shower. No one would ever think of looking there. I turn the TV up loud (that also scares would-be robbers away), and head downstairs to the lounge.
Chasing the sun for two hours, dodging golf balls, and trying to get to the tee box to create stunning images before the next four-ball match arrives is very stressful. Answering questions like "What are you doing?" when trying to photograph a course which is as obvious as a wart on a hogs behind is also a pain. I have three minutes of sunshine left on the green and some lone golfer chooses this moment to hit four balls into it. This is also not good for the blood pressure.
The only reason I mention all of this is to relieve some of my Irish-Catholic guilt when ordering a second Bushmills on the rocks. I am a firm believer in balance, and I believe this "water of life" helps restore the calm in my soul after a hectic day. After a little soakage, i.e. food, its back to the hotel room. I check all my camera equipment, make sure the film is in a cool place, and call home to talk to the children and "She Who Must Be Obeyed." I place a wake-up call, watch CNN and fall asleep.
The one thing that blows me away about people who work at golf courses is that they can never tell you when the sun rises. When I ask the superintendent or golf pro, "What time will the first rays of the sun dance across the fairways?" they inevitably say an hour before it actually happens. No worries. I sit in my brand-new Avis, read the complimentary USA Today, and enjoy my breakfast of champions (a Seven-Up and a Milky Way bar) as I wait for the giant golden orb to peek over the mountains.
Job completed, I make a mad dash to the airport and take the 11:45 back to Denver. With 40 minutes to kill, I stop off at the half-way house and have a Fosters or a Fat Tire whichever one I didnt have the day before. Feeling confident that I wont soil my pants if we drop 1,000 feet in a split-second, I board my connection back to California.
Forty-eight hours later, Im again enjoying one of my wifes fine culinary offerings. My son queries, "Dad, how was Chicago?"
"I was in Florida son," I respond.
"Is that close to Chicago?"
"Go get an atlas lad and lets work on your geography."
Chances are I will sleep well tonight. Ill need it, because Im off again in a couple of days.
On a recent trip to Ireland I packed a large bottle of my favorite Irish whiskey in my carry-on luggage. I know, it sounds a little strange, taking Irish whiskey to Ireland but not if you knew that it costs anywhere from four to six times more than it does in the States. Upon checking in at the airport, the United Airlines employee informed me that I was three and a half pounds over weight. When I told him that I thought I carried it rather well he was not impressed. "That will be $150 sir."
Over the years I have learned, much to my chagrin, that it doesn't pay to argue with people in uniforms. In fact they get a special pleasure in letting you know what omnipotent power and authority comes with their fashion statements.I enjoy my Bushmills on occasion, it's a wonderful stress-reliever, but to be honest it's not quite worth $150. Regretfully, I had to surrender my little bit of liquid comfort. On reweighing my bag I was now .3 lbs overweight. "That will be $150 sir." Where's the compassion? Whatever happened to the "Friendly Skies"?
All of this got me thinking about how the travel environment has changed in recent years . . . especially air travel. The following are some observations from this particular persons "flight deck." While they may not have the usual humorous spin that I like to cast, they are nonetheless factual and downright mind-boggling.
Flying from LA to Oklahoma, a certain airline (you know who you are) only accepts credit cards when purchasing one of their culinary delights or liquid refreshments. Ironically, on the return flight they only accept "cash" for those same much sought-after goodies. Help me out here folks!
Last week I flew Santa Barbara to Seattle, a lovely flight. They weighed my check-on luggage, always a moment of great concern and anticipation for me. On the return flight the same bag was not weighed. Why not? I felt deprived. After all the careful culling of heavy clothes and other luxuries just to stay under the limit, they didn't even give me the satisfaction of rewarding me for my diligence. Frustrating. Do you know that I was carded in the Seattle airport (I am 58 years young)? Normally, that wouldn't bother me; I am used to it by now. What really pissed me off was that I ordered a "glass of water." Helloooo deeeeary!
Earlier this year I flew to Philadelphia. Prior to departing for the airport I weighed my check-on. Since I don't like surprises I was happy when I weighed in at a nice fighting weight of 47 pounds, three pounds under the limit. The UA scale posted a hefty 54. "That will be $150 sir. And oh, by the way, we need another $20 for the bag." I'll leave you to figure out how I felt.
On my onward flight from Philadelphia to Memphis, the same bag that left Santa Barbara was minus two lost Titleists that now weighed 42 pounds. I guess everything is lighter on the East Coast. Flying home from Memphis, they never even weighed the bag. So much for the reassurance that the right hand knows what the left is doing. Isn't it nice to know there is uniformity across the board in all these regulations.
In European airports you don't have to remove your shoes. I think you can thank the French for that. Have you ever been in the Metro? Also, removing computers from their containers is not always a requisite. I flew from NYC to Dubai. The in-flight attendants were young, attractive and happy. Wonderful food and liquid refreshments were plentiful. Returning to the West Coast from NYC, the attendants were not so young, attractive and happy. On a five-and-a-half-hour flight on an airline we shall not mention (but you know who you are) we were served a glass of water and two saltines. I am sure I could have ordered something more substantial but I was embarrassed to ask whether it was a "cash" or "credit-card" flight.
These days the airlines charge for everything. In Europe they even charge you extra if you didn't check in at home. It's $19 to get a window seat or $29 if you need more leg room. Why don't you just take that $48 and go to the airport bar, have a couple of your favorite adult libations, save a few dollars and you won't even give a s*&t where you sit.
Some airlines charge $7 for a "Crudweiser." Others want $5, and some even give it away free. Now that last one makes sense to me, give that stuff away. It costs $920 to travel 365 miles/52 minutes (Santa Barbara to San Francisco), but it costs only $680 to fly 7,000 miles/10 hours (LA to Dublin). To quote the words of a well-known comedian, "How come they call them apartments when they're all stuck together?" Sound familiar?????
A couple of weeks after 9/11 I was in a security line behind a gentleman who was asked to empty the content of his pants pockets. He had a couple of golf tees and was promptly told they would be confiscated because they were considered a "potentially dangerous weapon," Only if you put an old skuzzy Slazenger on top of them! Needless to say we were served our meal with a regular knife and fork. At what stage did we completely lose sight of basic common sense?
What purpose does it serve to ask a 93-year-old grandmother to show proof of her age when ordering a small glass of Chardonnay? Why charge me $5 to watch a movie? Hide it in the price of the ticket and then I will think you are a wonderful airline because you are giving it to me gratis. Duh!!!!!. Why do airlines think they can now charge us $10 for the same crappy food they used to give us for free? I'm puzzled.
I realize that this is a forum to discuss golf and photography, but all of these incidents and many more occurred on the way to and from photographing a golf course. I promise to throw in a little more levity in my next yarn.
Despite all this doom and gloom, there is one consistent bright spot in these airline tales. The very fact that I can regurgitate all these incidents to anyone who is still awake, means that the pilots have done a marvelous job bringing their magnificent flying machines safely back to Earth. For that I am eternally grateful. Did I ever mention to you that my mother used to tell me that I was very good at everything in life that was totally unimportant? God bless her.
In closing, a quick story to end my ramblings. Despite all my observations, complaints and grumblings about the airline industry, without them I couldn't do my job.
Case in point: At 7 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day I was in an Irish Bar in the Lisbon Airport. The waiter was not aware of the day or its significance. Six hours later in the Newark Airport a bartender from Dublin put everything back in perspective. Another five and a half hours across the continent and the bartender at LAX was dumbfounded as to why people in Chicago would put green dye in the river (I have a problem with that myself). Midnight West Coast time I closed my favorite tavern in Santa Barbara. As I walked out the door, Tony (my good friend and bartender to the stars) said, "In the time that I have been here today, keeping everyone happy, you have been through four different airports, on two continents, in three different planes, and some 7,000 miles. You are a lucky fellow."
I guess Tony is right. I am a lucky fellow. All of the above is part of everyday life when you choose to "soar in the clouds." How we interpret these events has a tendency to color our perceptions of people, places, and yes . . . even airlines. Difficult as it may be at times, try to choose the lighter, brighter side. Take a deep breath and relax. It's easier on the blood pressure. Flying is the only way I can get from one adventure to the next, so I try to see the humor in the anomalies that I encounter on a regular basis.
Until the next time, safe travels and don't forget to show them your ID when you order water in Seattle.
Recently I got the urge to put pen to paper again and, on reflection, I attempted to discern why I agreed to embark on this path in the first place. To be honest, I have lost too many brain cells in the interim and am at a loss to conjure up a plausible answer. When push comes to shove, it's not that important. I have enjoyed the process and hopefully you have had a few chuckles with me.
In one of my earlier dissertations I said, "If there is any interest in this subject (golf course photography) and Jeff Shelley - Cybergolf's editorial director - doesn't burn this manuscript, I would very much enjoy sharing with you stories of flipping a golf cart upside down in a bunker in Hawaii, freeing a cart from an icy path in Oregon, and getting a cart stuck in the ocean bordering Mexico."
Well, maybe it is time to elucidate on some of my earlier promises. I said I would talk about some of my escapades while traversing the course in a "buggy" . . . an Irish excuse for not walking. The history of golf is replete with the benefits of walking as opposed to slobbering around in a power cart while attempting to locate your long-lost $3 projectile. As much as I enjoy the ambulatory tradition, I find it a little easier on the system to ride while working.
In hindsight, I recall photographing one of the world's most celebrated courses without the benefit of a little mobile comfort. I was informed that I would not have access to a buggy, as it would do damage to the terrain. What about all of those other machines that were keeping the course nicely manicured; were they floating on air?
When photographing a golf course you have a limited amount of time to accomplish your assignment. The sun waits for no man or woman. Chasing the sun on foot is a futile exercise. Nevertheless, with camera equipment, tripod, a spam sandwich and a Lucozade in my backpack, I got the job done. It's not easy traversing a course with 40 pounds on your back, new golf shoes, and two hours to walk 18 holes. And you wonder why I succumb to a cold libation on occasion.
10th Hole at Kukio
Kuki'o is a beautiful Tom Fazio-designed course in Kailua, Kona, on the island of Hawaii. In the neighborhood you have Hualalai, The Weiskopf, and Nanea. These are courses with pretty serious pedigrees. Several years ago I had the good fortune to be commissioned to photograph Kuki'o. I spent the better part of five days on the property and felt good about the results. On the final day, I had a few hours before departure and thought I would see if I could squeeze a few more images out of the course. On my final pass I decided to traverse it backwards. Bad mistake - and a lesson well learned.
Sand traps are designed to be seen from the tee box, not the green. Charging down the 15th fairway in the opposite direction with the throttle wide open, I floated over a wee knoll only to hear myself scream "Oh S@%t!" With my eyeballs now as large as pineapples, I slammed on the brakes and, in the morning dew, I proceeded to execute two perfectly symmetrical 360s, all the time accompanied by an ever-increasing high-pitched "Holy S@%t!"
Before I knew it, I am doing a slow-motion helicopter maneuver over the bright silica sand. Problem was, my launch angle was not very level, resulting in a mouthful of turf and warm sand for breakfast. The top of the cart had sheared off, and what was left was sitting on top of me. Camera equipment was strewn throughout the bunker and a stream of blood was spurting from my right thigh.
Enough of the gore, the only real damage was to the canopy of the cart and my shattered ego. A quick call to the superintendent and maintenance crew towed the cart out of the trap. Some sod was replaced, the bunker was raked, and all was good as new. On the way to the airport the superintendent called to make sure I was still in one piece. Nice gesture, but I am sure he was happy to see this one-man wrecking crew leaving the place. He informed me that his staff had affectionately named me "Flipper" in honor of my double-gainer into the sand trap. Nice.
8th Hole at Pumpkin Ridge (Ghost Creek)
Far from the majestic Hawaiian splendor and balmy ocean breezes is the scene of one of my finest "mind-over-matter" achievements. Many years ago I was hired by a Los Angeles ad agency to shoot an annual report for a large golf management company. One of the courses I was required to photograph was Pumpkin Ridge, just outside Portland, Ore. I had just one day to get a couple of images and weather was a factor. Slim pickins in the afternoon, and the forecast for the a.m. shoot was cold and frosty. Sure enough, it was real chilly and icy. But no worries as I had fortified my system the night before with nature's finest antifreeze: lovely Irish whisky.
Flying around the course searching for my next masterpiece, I hit an ice patch and slid off the cart path and onto the fairway. Once I came to rest and regained my composure, I attempted to get back on the path. No such luck. The more the rear wheels spun in the soggy terrain, the deeper they sunk into their own tracks. Realizing forward momentum was not an option I got out off my mud-splattered buggy. After a while it was obvious: I needed some traction. I collected some twigs and small rocks from the surrounds and strategically formed a path towards dry land.
That helped advance the cart a few feet in the right direction but left me short of a full escape. Next, I used the sand from the divot-filling containers. Brilliant! Now we are moving, but still a little short of terra firma. If I could just get a couple more feet I would be back on the path. Another flash of ingenuity, I sacrificed the two green towels that came with the cart. Yes sir, home-free.
Finally back on the cart path, I realized there were a couple of feet of ice between myself and the dry road. Now I'm a little concerned because the sun was getting a bit high in the sky and I still needed a few images. With this new sense of urgency I knew I had to find a solution and quickly. I tried to think rationally: "The reason I cannot extricate myself from this situation is because of the ice. If I could just find a way to melt the ice I would be on my way." The coffee was long gone and no help was in sight.
Suddenly, it dawned on me. I DID have something warm at my disposal. After a quick look over my shoulder, I whipped out "Bishop Fagan" and sprayed the icy tundra. No sooner had the ice diluted after the still-warm Irish whisky hit the pavement than I was back in the buggy, carefully edging it to freedom. I welled up with a sense of pride and achievement. I actually solved a problem with my bare hands and a few tools at my disposal. This momentary flash of genius allowed me to laugh all the way to the airport.
Punta Mita's Tale of the Whale
South of the border, 45 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, you will find Punta Mita. A Jack Nicklaus-designed course, it is on the northern tip of Bahía de Banderas - one of the world's largest natural bays. Within strolling distance is the beautifully appointed and ideally located Four Seasons Resort nestled in an idyllic little cove. It is the perfect place to have a romantic interlude with either your wife or mistress, preferably the one that plays golf.
Before the course opened I was hired to create some images for their advance-marketing collateral. Punta Mita is famous for its extra green (Tail of the Whale), a par-3 that sits approximately 200 yards out in the ocean on a tiny island. When the tide is out you can drive your buggy out to the green. When I got there, the makeshift cobblestone path was a little under water but I figured no big deal. Right!
Did I mention that I had a hole-in-one on that course just the day before? Yep. Two hundred and 10 yards slightly downhill par-3 struck with unerring accuracy with my Ping Persimmon 5-wood (A.K.A. the Billy Boru). Thankfully, the only witness was the director of golf (saved a few pesos there) who was my playing partner. We had a few "shorts" that night in downtown Puerto Vallarta to celebrate. But I digress.
Intoxicated by the stunning beauty of the location, I inadvertently managed to get the buggy stuck in some rather wet, deep sand. Picture a golf cart being devoured by quicksand and you get the idea. One is overcome by all sorts of emotions when faced with the fact that you have just done something very stupid and exercised a severe lack of judgment. Irish-Catholic guilt will be the death of me.
Wallowing in self-pity and loathing myself for screwing up, I spotted a young man ambling up the beach. Not sure whether he was heading to work or dragging himself home from a night of debauchery, I beckoned him to come hither. With a few misguided Spanish words, simple gesticulations began the process, but waving a $20 bill in his face clinched the deal. Fast forward 15 minutes and all is good. I was drained, he was thrilled and thankfully the sun never came out from behind the clouds. The guilt of not getting some work done would have killed me.
Are there any lessons to be learned from these yarns? But of course. There is a fine line between genius and stupidity. Realize that they are separated only by moments in time. Enjoy the reflection and try to avoid the actuality. I have no idea what that means but I think it would look great on a T-shirt.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was in Ireland and the sprinkler went off under the buggy? Well, this huge gush of water jettisoned itself into the undercarriage of the buggy with such voluminous force that I about soiled my . . . Oh sorry, maybe another time.
I am lounging here in Montego Bay in Jamaica, enjoying a refreshing tooty-fruity drink as I glance out over an enchanting, multilayered azure sea. The waves are slowly ambling up onto the white-hot sandy beach and reluctantly receding beneath the next advancing wave, only to start the process all over again. The serenity of the moment is only disrupted by the noise of a blender serving up another inviting concoction for the newest tourist to arrive from the East Coast.
Okay so now you know where I am. I only mention this to remind myself of all the interesting places I have traveled to, since embarking on this whimsical photographic journey.
The one question I am asked the most is: So where is your favorite golf course? Its like asking, Which single-malt whiskey do you most enjoy? Or, Who was your favorite ex-girlfriend? If youve been married for more than 10 years, they all were.
The palette that I get to play with is as diverse as an array of Pantone colors. Case in point: Presently I am in Jamaica where the purified air fresh off the Caribbean Seas dance floor navigates its way through the tall coconut-laden palm trees as I shank another Titleist into the green-side bunker.
Next week I will be in the hot-dry desert of Las Vegas, still shanking another expensive Pro V1 into a misplaced sand trap. In the evening, my senses will be assailed by multicolored neon lights and every beeping, gurgling, and chirping sound ever invented. Waitresses with skirts so short . . . if my eyes so much as stray from theirs, there is not enough blood pressure medicine to prevent a bolt to the heart.
Bloody Point, on Dafuskie Island off the coast of South Carolina, is aptly named. After three flights, a 45-minute ferry ride and 10-minute bus trip, I am on the golf course. As soon as I have put my camera on the tripod, I am attacked by a cloud of no-see-ums. Within minutes I have more holes in my body than a pin cushion. They should rename the course, Bloody Points!
Speaking of bugs, Gray Plantation in Saint Charles, La., has mosquitoes so big they make flying pigs look like distant cousins. I needed a quart of blood when I returned home just to maintain a healthy level.
3 Creek Ranch, a new course on the outskirts of Jackson Hole, Wyo., meanders through a wonderful meadow within view of the majestic Tetons. An environment so fresh, invigorating and healthy, I almost considered quitting drinking.
Speaking of tea, the comfort stations (Hawaiian for restrooms) at the fabulous Kukio Golf and Beach Club on the Big Island are stockpiled with more exquisite miniatures than a 747 inbound to Los Angeles from Singapore. The Tom Fazio design miraculously sprouts from the molten lava, graciously provided by the volcano goddess Pele. I wouldnt want to be around when she gets angry again.
And now, from the lavish to the natural. Ballyliffin Golf Club, which is as far north as you can get in Ireland without stumbling into the frigid North Sea after a couple of pints of Guinness, sports two fine links courses. The neighboring area has a grocery store/gas station and five hotels. The only activities in this beautiful part of the country are golf, golf, golf, and funeral lunches.
Heading in the other direction, as far South as you can go, is Old Head Golf Links which, arguably, occupies one of the most spectacular pieces of land ever to accommodate a golf course. However, beware, as one false step, or a mighty gust of wind, and you will follow hundreds of poor misguided sheep which, over the years, have done the Fosbury Flop into watery Atlantic Ocean graves.
While in this part of the world, how can you not talk about a couple of classics? I have had the good fortune to visit, play and photograph the Old Course at St. Andrews. It is as flat as the plains of Texas and has more bunkers than Normandy on D-Day. That said, the Holy Grail is a must pilgrimage for any passionate golfer. Near the top of Scotland is a true gem, Royal Dornoch. If not for its remote location, this course would definitely be on the British Open rota. The only things that might ruffle your feathers at this links are the lack of yardage markers, on-course bathrooms (easy on the haggis before teeing off), and the occasional RAF flyboy practicing his need for speed over the Dornoch Firth.
Okay, time to get back across the Atlantic and wrap up this installment, as I can hear my editor mumble, Thats enough diatribe for this issue finish it up (Editors Note: Not true.)
Getting back to the original point of variety, the Lost Gold Golf Course in Mesa, Ariz., hosts an LPGA event in March. There is nothing like the dry desert air, flora and fauna, and the proverbial cacti that permeate this wonderful facility at the base of the ever-impressive Superstition Mountain.
In sharp contrast, you have the courses of Alberta, Canada. The perfect road trip starts with Jasper (where I lost and found my engagement ring). Then on to Banff Springs (where I proposed after completing 18 holes and consuming two stiff Irish whiskeys). Up the road a piece is Silver Tip (where she said Yes). Across the highway you will find Stewarts Creek (where I wondered, What have I done?), and finally on to Kananaskis (Lets get out of here before either of us change our minds). These courses weave their way through the Rockies and climb straight up from the fairways all the way to Heaven.
My Jamaican bartender, who has been standing in front of me for the past five minutes, has a pearly white grin from ear to ear. He is either an advertisement for a local dentist or been sipping too much happy juice. Mine is the only stool that has not been inverted on the bar, so I guess thats his polite way of saying, Its time to go home Sir.
Slainte (Jamaican for Ya Mon}