48 Hours in the Life of a Golf Course Photographer

By: Aidan Bradley

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 back in a day or two."

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 (I’m 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 I’m 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. I’m leaving my family, so questions arise like: “Who is going to feed the dog?” and, “What happens if California falls into ocean when I’m 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 I’m 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 Sunday’s 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 you’re an alcoholic or have designs on the Captain’s 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, I’m 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 they’re 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 I’ve 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 hog’s 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, it’s 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 didn’t have the day before. Feeling confident that I won’t soil my pants if we drop 1,000 feet in a split-second, I board my connection back to California.

Forty-eight hours later, I’m again enjoying one of my wife’s 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 let’s work on your geography."

Chances are I will sleep well tonight. I’ll need it, because I’m off again in a couple of days.


Aidan Bradley is regarded as among the best at his trade and is widely recognized for his ability to capture the excitement and mood of a golf course. For examples, visit Aidan’s site at http://golfcoursephotography.com/home.asp.

Over the years, Aidan’s images have graced the pages of all the national golf publications and he is a regular contributor to golf coffeetable books such as “Nicklaus by Design,” Golf Digest’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play,” “Golf, The Women’s Game,” and many others. Titleist, Spalding Worldwide, Taylor Made, and Top Flight are but a few of the clients who have used Aidan’s images in their ad campaigns.

Aidan was born in Cork, Ireland, where he lived for 21 years. He now resides in Santa Barbara, Calif., from where his work takes him to places that the most passionate golfer dreams of: St. Andrews in Scotland, Augusta National in Georgia, Ballybunion in Ireland, and The Challenge on the island of Lanai in Hawaii. Whatever the assignment, Aidan’s focus on light and the surrounding natural environment consistently produces images that evoke a mood that even non-golfers find attractive and compelling.