The Genesis of a Golf Course Photographer

By: Aidan Bradley

Editor’s Note: This is the first of what will be several installments in a new forthcoming section of Cybergolf called, Golf Photography. Leading the way is Aidan Bradley, one of the finest photographers in the business. With his inimitable Irish wit, Aidan will discuss his craft and all the exotic places it has taken him. With this first installment, Aidan tells us how he got into his unique profession.

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 weekend’s entertainment. One would think after all those years as a hod carrier (a brick layer’s 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 couldn’t 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 – Cybergolf’s editorial director – doesn’t 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.

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.

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.