It took them a few days but all of a sudden my email box filled up with notes from photographers to let me know about the apparent evilness of my suggestion that Stephen Szurlej's Golf Digest Best New photos were less than excellent.
I normally feel bad when people whose work I so admire say I was "mean-spirited," but one also suggested that if I could just keep my "writing at the same level as Steve's photography," I'd be "right up there with Herbert Warren Wynn."
That's when I realized that A) Norm Crosby would have wished he'd come up with that line, and (B) the work of our friends in the golf photography profession largely goes unappreciated and therefore, rarely critiqued. In other words, any criticism might rattle some cages.
I was going to let this go but the emails suggest a discussion of golf course photography might be worthwhile.
First, a few points.
Stephen Szurlej is probably the best tournament photographer in golf. He's always at the right place at the right time and has done some amazing work. His list of epic photographs is endless.
However, he exclusively photographs the Golf Digest "Best New" courses each year. This is a difficult assignment because it has to be accomplished in short time with dicey weather. But can one person capture all of the award winners without some quality compromise? I understand Szurlej insists on this exclusive arrangement, and therefore must accept that less-than-inspiring image will be noticed and called out. Especially when architects have clients or potential clients asking why they ran a rear view shot that shows nothing.
It just so happens that I was involved with a course that won a Best New in 2003 and the image prompted a few Golf Digest folks to apologize. They suggested that the constraints of having one person photographing these courses in a very short amount of time may have led to an image that artfully highlighted a weed, captured the late light glistening off a cart path curb and for good measure, included a pair of carts in the shot. Other than that, it was stupendous.
What is most disappointing about the non-aerial photos this year--particularly the TPC Boston set--is that the reader gets no feel for the architecture or what the golfer faces. In a spread highlighting the best new architecture, I don't think it's a lot to ask for something more than a ground level, rear view of a hole.
For example, here is the photo that ran in the magazine under the caption: "No. 1/ TPC Boston: It's not often a makeover results in an older look."
The photo depicts the par-4 10th, which was probably the least-tinkered with hole on the course and most certainly does not look old. So when considering the options for possible photos, you have to wonder why a hole that did not really represent the impact of the remodel was chosen. Furthermore, photographed from an angle that fails to capture the new look bunkering or much else of interest.
Perhaps I've just been spoiled by Golf Digest's consistent high quality and often cutting-edge photography. But when architects and their teams put so much into a design and panelists recognize such work, it would be seem fitting that the photography should match.
In the case of the remodel category, it also would have been great to see before-after comparisons. But since this was the final year of that category, I won't bother to ramble on about the importance of demonstrating how courses get transformed. (For some comparison shots of TPC Boston, you can go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
So I put it to you all. What do you like to see in golf course imagery? Whose work do you admire, and why?