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A tip to make your round better: Bring your camera

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One of the main criticisms of golf is the time it takes to play a round.

A lot could be accomplished off the golf course in those four or more hours. You could clean the house, mow the lawn or organize your garage in that span of time, or you could watch an entire Peter Jackson movie.

I share your concerns about the time spent on the course. But if I could make one simple suggestion to make the day feel more accomplished and have your round seem more complete, may I suggest using your camera on the course?

Depending on where I am in the world, I’ve been known to bring my SLR (single lens reflex) camera with me on the course to capture the essence of the course the way I see it — from a golfer’s point of view. Like most of you, I own my share of golf calendars and books full of lush, green photos of faraway golf destinations. But these beautiful photos are typically from a bird’s eye view, capturing a perspective of the course that a player typically doesn’t have access to.

We have been spoiled to appreciate the beautiful landscapes of these golf courses by these professional photos and the amazing TV coverage from cranes and the MetLife blimp. But often times the beauty of the golf course is how the players see it, at eye level staring down at the pin 100 yards away. If I can provide you some tips for taking great photos on the course quickly and easily, I would argue that most of you would be able to produce your own album of golf photos that others would enviably say, “Wow! Where is this?”

But before I get into it a bit more, I want to add a caveat by pointing out that I’m not encouraging you to spend time walking the course and looking for the right photo opportunity. I’m sure you can imagine someone wandering off the fairway when they should be playing ready golf and I’m sure you can feel the frustration as you look at your partners asking:

“Would you look at this clown? What is he doing?”

Great photographs take time to compose, whether it is the right light, the right moment or the way the wind is blowing. That is what a lot of professional photographers are doing when taking the photos you see in books, and chances are they are not playing the course nor have a group of four behind them waiting (sometimes impatiently) to take your golf shot. Please use these five tips when the time is right and when you are not contributing to slow play on the golf course. If you are able to remember some of these tips while walking or riding the course, you should be able to take a quick photo in stride and not affect your speed of play. Besides, I don’t want the golf community to be angry with me for encouraging you to wander around the course like a tourist…or a clown.

Tip# 1: The best camera you have is the one you have available

There is nothing worse for a photographer like being unprepared for a photo opportunity and having to fidget around with controls, setting and lenses to ensure they get the right shot. That takes up time and annoys even a photographer like myself. Mobile phones have come a long way and are adequately equipped to take excellent photos, just as good as a point and shoot camera and some SLR’s. And because most everyone carries a smartphone nowadays, it is already with you and ready at the hip to take a quick shot. The photo above was taken using my iPhone — no special lighting, filters or lenses. I couldn’t miss this opportunity and grabbed the most available camera I had on hand. If convenient, and you were able to bring a camera bag with you, I would recommend taking an SLR camera with a wide angle lens as well, but typically the camera on your phone will be able to capture interesting and memorable photos if you are able to see things differently, which leads me to…

Tip #2: See the course differently

What separates an amateur photographer from a working professional is the ability to see the everyday in a different way. Now that might be a mind blowing concept for someone who doesn’t take photos very often, but I am talking to golfers and I know for a fact that golfers have an innate ability to visualize – whether it is seeing how the ball will draw/fade, how to manage the swirling breeze that just kicked up or reading a 60-foot putt that appears to have a double break and two elevation changes. That ability to visualize and see things differently is exactly what a photographer does before they take the shot. No one likes a “spray and pray” golfer — same goes for photographers.

For example, it is very common to take a photo at eye level standing up. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but you can make things a bit different and interesting if you were to see the course and the image differently. Maybe stand behind your ball and give it a dramatic view by taking a photo on the ground. The ball is the focal point, but the essence of the photo is still the backdrop of the hole, keeping the viewer well tuned that this is a golf photo on a real golf course. Think about an ant’s eye view rather than the bird’s eye view we are all accustomed to seeing.

Another example would be to take photos of the interesting lies you left yourself with. Maybe you are off the fairway in the woods and there is a small bit of daylight that lets you see the pin a few hundred yards away. Take that image as if you were setting up for the shot, with the ball in the frame and the pin a sliver of color and it gives the viewer a sense of the challenge you faced. Perhaps you ended up dropping the ball in the fairway, but at least the image shows the difficulty level of the shot. And you can always lie about how you punched the shot through the branches and landed it within 10 feet to save par. Bring the viewer to the course the way you saw it and the unconventional suddenly becomes interesting.

Tip #3: Use a focal point

The reason why golf courses design a “signature hole” is to create a focal point, a chosen hole that makes the course interesting and sets it apart from other golf courses in the world. They will use images of the signature hole for promotional purposes to frame and speak to the beauty of their golf course symbolized by this one hole.

Kananaskis 

You don’t necessarily have to wait for the signature hole to take photos though. The course itself has many features that make it different from others, and it is those features that can make a photo stand out. In Arizona, you can use the cacti or the visible division of fairway versus off-fairway details of desert golf to bring interest to the photo. In Orlando, the use of palm trees to line a golf hole makes it certain that this wasn’t a hole in Canada. In Alberta, many holes are framed by evergreen trees and the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, something you would never see in Orlando. Include some golf details where possible to remind yourself that these amazing sights were taken on a golf course.

Other easy examples of focal points to compose interesting images are right in your bag. The reflection of your driver head can be used to capture your foursome and if you are really adventurous, you can hold the driver up off the ground and squeeze in the landscape into the photograph as well. This can be done at the tee box and wouldn’t take much time at all.

Tip#4: It’s all about light

Ask any professional photographer and they will tell you that the secret to taking great photographs of anything is light. Light is what enables us to see an image, and the use of light will determine the mood of a photo. Take a look at the professional golf photos in those calendars and books – you know what you will see? Almost all of them were taken at sunrise or sunset. During those two times of the day, we are given the best natural light for any photos. It is why many of us have a sunset/sunrise photo or two in our collection, we all know it is the most beautiful a sky can get.

So for the early morning golfer and the after work dusk golfer, you are in luck because most any photo you take during these times of the day will turn out really nice (light wise, composition is still up to you). The softness of the sun will always highlight objects and scenery with a pleasant warm glow that will certainly make you look like you knew what you were doing. Though the convention is to never shoot into the sun, it is during this time where you should experiment with it and allow yourself the opportunity to get the sun’s effect on the clouds and how it illuminates the sky with dazzling color.

For the other unfortunate souls who have to deal with midday light, I got nothing for you. Sorry.

Just kidding. In midday light, you will have good results when you have the sun slightly behind you or to the side. Even better is a partially cloudy day when the sun is hidden and the shade provides the best midday light possible. Without getting too technical, shaded light enables you to capture highlights, mid tones and shadows in the image which in turn provides dimension and avoids the appearance of a “flat looking photograph.” Photos at sunrise and sunset are successful because of the dramatic tones and transitions from light to shadow, allowing you to see the undulations of the fairway and greens and giving a sense of depth and dimension.

Tip#5: Take non-golf photos too

This one might take a little convincing, but if you were to enjoy the golf course as a chance to be outdoors and not just an activity where you drink and bet dinners with your friends, you will likely find it is no different than going for a nice walk or hike (just with a few tossed clubs and four letter words thrown in). And when people go for a nice walk or hike, they will take the time to see the flowers or the birds and really immerse themselves into the nature of their surroundings.

If you have a chance, don’t hesitate to take a quick snapshot of the eagle perched on the top of a tree or the flowers that greet you at the tee box. Unlike nature, golf courses are well manicured and taken care of so the flora you come across may seem too perfect. That is a perfect chance to get that image because like a food photo from a magazine, the staging is already done for you and all you need to do is take the photo.

 Stewart Creek

Similar to Tip #3, use your surroundings to remind yourself that you aren’t in your own backyard. Take photos of the interesting features that you don’t see very often at home. I’m personally fascinated by architecture and have enjoyed seeing some of the amazing mid-century modern homes from the 50’s and 60’s that lined many fairways in Palm Springs. These are homes that I only get to see in magazines, and being able to see it in person was thrilling and almost transported me back in time until I had to pull out my 2012-model driver.

Taking photographs during your round is arguably a good way to multitask and can help you feel as though you’ve achieved a lot more than just golf in four hours (and it’s way better than sending work emails). As long as you are able to take the photos within the flow of the game and not slow down the pace of your foursome, you will be rewarded with some great images to share and look back on. It can also tame the frustrations of a challenging 18 hole ordeal — maybe your score didn’t prove it, but at least your photos can provide evidence that it was in fact a beautiful day.

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Dennis lives in Calgary, Canada where golf is available (at best) six months of the year. The other six months are spent understanding the nuances of the game that make it so addicting and wonderfully frustrating. In a perfect world, Dennis would take his set of G10s and his D300S to travel the world playing and photographing the beautiful, unique landcapes of the golf world. For now, he sits at a desk and is developing an eight-layer golf ball simply called "The Tour Ocho."

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2 Comments

2 Comments

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    Aug 9, 2014 at 6:47 am

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  2. T.Litz

    Jan 16, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Great points Den. Multitasking does help..in a golf course? for me it’s one or the other. First I suck at golf which I determined later and convinced that I can’t be good at everything so I slowly reduced the amount of energy trying and spend just a tad more into my photography…then there’s bliss.

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Courses

Coming Up: A Big Golf Adventure

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My name is Jacob Sjöman, and I’m a 35-year-old golf photographer who also enjoys the game we all love. I will be sharing some experiences here on a big golf trip that we are doing. With me I’ve got my friend Johan. I will introduce him properly later, but he is quite a funny character. According to Johan, he is the best golf photo assistant in the world, and we will see about that since this is probably his biggest test yet doing this trip. Previously on our trips, Johan almost got us killed in Dubai with a lack of driving skills. He also missed a recent evening photo shoot in Bulgaria while having a few beers to many… and that’s not all.

Anyway, the last couple of days I’ve been packing my bags over and over. I came home from the Canary Islands this Sunday and I’ve been constantly checking and rechecking that we’ve got all the required equipment, batteries, and that the cameras are 100 percent functional and good to go for this golf trip. I’m still not sure, but in a couple of minutes I will be sitting in a taxi to the airport and there will be no turning back.

Where are we going then? We are going to visit some of the very best golf courses in New Zealand and Australia. There will be breathtaking golf on cliffsides, jaw-dropping scenic courses, and some hidden gems. And probably a big amount of lost balls with a lot of material produced in the end.

I couldn’t be more excited for a golf journey like this one. Flying around the globe to these special golf courses I’ve only dreamed about visiting before gives me a big kick and I feel almost feel like a Indiana Jones. The only thing we’ve got in common, though, is that we don’t like snakes. Australia seems to be one of the worst destinations to visit in that purpose, but all the upsides are massive in this.

First, we will take off from a cold Stockholm (it’s raining heavily outside at the moment) and then we will do our first stop at Doha in Quatar. Then after two more hours, we are finally heading off to Auckland on the north island of New Zealand, a mega-flight of 16 hours. I believe that could very well be one of the longest flights available for a ordinary airplane. I need to check that.

Flights for me usually mean work, editing photos from different golf courses I’ve visited, writing some texts, editing some films, and planning for the future. Last time, though, I finally managed to sleep a little, which is a welcome progress for a guy that was deadly scared of flying until 2008.

Now, I am perfectly fine with flying. A few rocky flights over the Atlantic Sea to Detroit helped me a lot, and my motto is now, “If those flights got me down on the ground safely, it takes a lot of failures to bring down a plane.”

Anyway, I hope you will join me on this golf trip. Stay tuned!

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Opinion & Analysis

Be Curious, Not Critical, of Tour Player Swings

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After a foul ball by a tour player, the talking heads on TV are often quick to analyze the “problem” with that swing. Fair enough, I suppose. Even the best players are human and our game has more failure than success. But I’d like to offer a different take on swings of the best players in the world.

First, let’s remember how good these guys and gals really are. If you met up with the lowest ranked player on any professional tour at a public course one day, I’ll bet that golfer would be the best golfer most of you have ever played with. You’d be telling your buddies in the 19th hole about him or her for a very long time. These players have reached a level of ball striking most people only dream about. That’s why I’m more curious than critical when it comes to a tour player’s swing. I’m not thinking about what he/she needs to do better; I’m thinking, “How do they do it so well?” In other words, I want to know how they put their successful move together. What part goes with the other parts? How did their pattern evolve? What are the compatible components of their swing?

Let’s use Jim Furyk as an example. Furyk has what we might call an “unconventional” move. It’s also a swing that has won nearly $70 million and shot 58 one day. But I’ll offer him as an example because his swing illustrates the point I’m making. From a double-overlapping grip, Furyk picks the golf club up to what might be the most vertical position one would ever see from a professional. Then in transition, he flattens the club and drops it well behind him. Now the club is so flat and inside, he has to open his body as quickly as he can to keep the club from getting “stuck.” Let’s call it an “up-and-under loop.”

Let’s take Matt Kuchar as a counter example. Kuchar’s signature hands-in, flat and very deep takeaway is pretty much the total opposite of Furyk. But he comes over that takeaway and gets the club back into a great position into impact. We’ll call that an “in-and-over” loop.

Both are two of the best and most consistent golfers in the world. Is one right and the other wrong? Of course not. They do have one thing in common, however, and it’s that they both balanced their golf swing equation.

What would happen if Kuchar did what Furyk does coming down? Well, he wouldn’t be on TV on the weekend. If he did, he’d be hitting drop kicks several inches behind. That doesn’t win The Players Championship. The point is that the Furyk downswing is incompatible with the Kuchar backswing, and vice versa, but I’m guessing they both know that.

How can this help you? My own personal belief and the basis of my teaching is this: your backswing is an option, but your downswing is a requirement. I had one student today dropping the arms and club well inside and another coming over the top, and they both felt better impact at the end of the lesson. I showed them how to balance their equation.

My job is solving swing puzzles, a new one very hour, and I’m glad it is. It would be mind-numbing boredom if I asked every golfer to do the same thing. It’s the teaching professional’s job to solve your puzzle, and I assure you that with the right guidance you can make your golf swing parts match. Are there universal truths, things that every golfer MUST do?  Yes, they are the following:

  1. Square the club face
  2. Come into the ball at a good angle
  3. Swing in the intended direction
  4. Hit the ball in the center of the face (method be damned!)

But here’s the funny part: Let Kuchar or Furyk get off base and watch every swing critic in the world blame some part of the quirkiness of their move that has led to their greatness. When players at their level get off their game, it’s generally due to poor timing or that they lost the sync/rhythm that connected their individual parts. The same holds true for all of us. We have to find the matching parts and the timing to connect them. You might not need new parts.

After all, weren’t those same parts doing the job when you shot your career low round?

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Opinion & Analysis

The numbers behind “full scholarships” in NCAA men’s college golf

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If you are in the world of junior golf, you’ve probably heard about a young man you know who’s getting that coveted full ride to college, maybe even to a Power-5 school. With all the talk in junior golf about full scholarships, and a lot of rumors about how many are available, we decided to poll coaches and gather some real data about “full scholarships.”

So, what did we find out? In total, we got responses to a voluntary online survey from 61 men’s D1 coaches, 19 men’s D2 coaches and 3 NAIA coaches (83 total). On average, the coaches in the survey had 11.8 years of coaching experience. Of the coaches that responded, 58 of the 83 coaches reported having zero players on full ride. Another 15 coaches surveyed reported having one player on full ride. This means that 69 percent of the coaches surveyed reported zero players on full scholarship and 18 percent reported one player on full scholarship, while another four coaches reported that 20 percent of their team was on full ride and six coaches reported between 2-3 players on full ride.

We then asked coaches, “what percent of golfers in Division 1 do you think have full scholarships based on your best guess?” Here’s what the responses looked like: 25 coaches said 5 percent and 36 coaches said 10 percent. This means that 73 percent of respondents suggested that, in their opinion, in men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA, there are less than 10 percent of players on full ride.

Next, we asked coaches, “what was a fair scholarship percentage to offer a player likely to play in your top 5?” The average of the 83 responses was 62.5 percent scholarship with 38 coaches (46 percent) suggesting they would give 30-50 percent and 43 coaches (52 percent) suggesting 50-75 percent. Only two coaches mentioned full scholarship.

The last question we asked coaches, was “what would you need to do to earn a full scholarship?”

  • Top-100 in NJGS/Top-250 in WAGR – 41 coaches (49 percent)
  • 250-700 in WAGR – 19 coaches (23 percent)
  • Most interesting, 17 coaches (20 percent) noted that they either did not give full rides or did not have the funding to give full rides.

The findings demonstrate that full rides among players at the men’s Division 1, Division 2 and NAIA levels are rare, likely making up less than 10 percent of total players. It also suggests that if you are a junior player looking for a full ride, you need to be exceptional; among the very best in your class.

Please note that the survey has limitations because it does not differentiate between athletic and academic money. The fact is several institutions have a distinct advantage of being able to “stack” academic and athletic aid to create the best financial packages. My intuition suggests that the coaches who responded suggesting they have several players on “full rides” are likely at places where they are easily able to package money. For example, a private institution like Mercer might give a student $12,000 for a certain GPA and SAT. This might amount to approximately 25 percent, but under the NCAA rules it does not count toward the coach’s 4.5 scholarships. Now for 75 percent athletic, the coach can give a player a full ride.

Maybe the most interesting finding of the data collection is the idea that many programs are not funded enough to offer full rides. The NCAA allows fully funded men’s Division 1 programs to have 4.5 scholarships, while Division 2 programs are allowed 3.6. My best guess suggests that a little more than 60 percent of men’s Division 1 programs have this full allotment of scholarship. In Division 2, my guess is that this number is a lot closer to 30 percent.

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