By Andrew Arthur
I became a golf photographer by accident. Like most people I had no idea at first of the passion golf inspires amongst its devotees, but there are enough of them that there’s a whole photographic market out there. Just look at the number of illustrated golf magazines. Even in these days of live TV and video, people enjoy looking at photographs of golfers, because the game is all about style and technique. Players need to learn how to stand, and swing, and putt, which takes dedication and practice. People like to analyse photographs of the pros. Hence the popularity of golf magazines.
Golf is a daft game really, but it has an enormous number of followers. Having tried it myself I can tell you it isn’t as easy as it looks. With the wound balls if you didn't hit the ball correctly it would split in half and the little rubber bit in the middle would go bounding off all on its own. I’m just saying.
This is a rural region. My assignments were mainly agricultural and equestrian, and I covered the diary of civic events in the town. I loved the variety. At an agricultural show I met the Bond Brothers, Hermon and Martin. From a traditional farming family, the Bonds became fanatical about golf and decided to build their own golf course. As you do. This ultimately became the St. Mellion International golf course. It’s near Plymouth on the map.
Because I already knew Hermon and Martin, I established good relations with their golf club management and went there often to cover their events. Golf courses seek good publicity and they work hard to be attractive places for people to spend their leisure time. Getting their name in the papers helps. People travel to Cornwall from all over to play at St. Mellion because it has a great reputation. Golf is a lucrative sport. The Bonds became multi-millionaires, but never stopped being really nice guys. No longer with us now, and much missed, they gave me my chance, and I’ll never forget that.
But first of all I had to learn to be a golf photographer. The local papers were a market for pictures of golf prize winners and of celebrities with local people. A Celebrity Pro-Am is a golf match where celebrities team up with a member of the public and play a round of golf with them. Imagine an afternoon with Robert Powell! Many celebrities are great at golf; it's surprising how many play. I have snapped racing drivers, soccer, pool, football, and snooker players, singers, entertainers, actors, and writers.
But it is not just about award ceremonies. The real fun is in getting action shots of golfers.
I spent time at St. Mellion photographing their club events. I began to work at other courses and local tournaments, learning my way around, acquiring the skills I needed. Hand-holding long lenses was not easy, and many good shots were ruined. Having figured out how to cover a match I established a method for getting the best pictures. Golf courses are very large places and you can easily walk your legs off. You need to have a Plan A. This starts literally with a map of the place. Everything revolves around that.
Because you don’t know who the winner will be, you have to photograph every single player otherwise Murphy’s Law will ensure that the winner is the one player you missed. You have to locate the start and finish holes and have a rough idea of where the others are, and then be there! All you have to do then is get the picture. At the decisive moment, like The Man said.
There are certain rules to be observed, especially at the professional matches, where you must not get in the way. If you get too many complaints you can be asked to leave by large men wearing serious expressions. Not me, thank goodness.
Golf can be dangerous. I remember seeing a world famous star tee off at the first hole in front of a big crowd at St. Mellion. Perhaps unnerved by the audience, he completely mishit the ball, which shot into the crowd and knocked a woman unconscious. The star was mortified but the woman was all right after medical attention. Expect the unexpected!
St. Mellion graduated to holding the Benson and Hedges International Open and I was granted a much coveted Press pass. Jack Nicklaus came over and supervised the laying out of the course and Benson's put on a huge show. Stands were built, car parks were laid out, absolutely thousands of people turned up. It wasn’t just golf, it was showbiz! I was learning to deal with it all, and selling my pictures to magazines, which is what it was all about. I had a picture in the World Handbook of Golf—it was of a pile of dirt. But this particular dirt was part of the new redesigned Jack Nicklaus course then being built and therefore very significant. My most boring golfing picture—sold.
At the big matches you need to be alert. The atmosphere is fragile. Staff lose their temper easily; they panic. Security men get carried away. You have to keep cool and flash your pass. Your equipment can be stolen, so it's best to travel light. Although the crowd barriers don’t apply to professional photographers, you can't just go anywhere. If the players think you are obstructing them, they'll object. Some players just get edgy and take it out on the nearest person, and that might be you!
But disaster struck Britain in the late 1980s. The country swept into a deep economic recession. Nobody wanted a freelance. In fact, too many of my clients ceased to exist altogether. My photography pretty much stopped, and not long after that I was forced out of the business due to lack of trade. If it had not been for that I think I might have specialised in golf photography.
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.