With the right photographer, equipment and imagery, golf courses can outperform their competitors and attract new customers.
Beauty sells, regardless of the product, its purpose or its industry. Golf courses are no different than cars or food or homes—if you want to sell, you have to capture your audience through eye-catching imagery.
“We are completely immersed in visuals,” explains photographer Michael Clemmer, a longtime NGF member who is based in Birmingham, Alabama. “And with our HDTVs, tablets and smart phones, we see images with greater clarity than those before us did.”
In response to this immersion, golf industry experts (from photographers and photo editors to management) offer their perspective on the ways in which golf courses’ photographs not only capture viewers’ attention, but also spur them to action — providing the inspiration to play more, take that special trip or become a loyal customer.
“As long as there are beautiful golf courses to be played, photography will play a huge role in their marketing strategy,” says KemperSports President Josh Lesnik, whose company manages 132 U.S. golf facilities, including Bandon Dunes, Streamsong, and Chambers Bay.
Capturing Golf’s Impact on the Senses
As a physical and visual sport—whether golfers are savoring the experience of being outside with nature or enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of a pristine course—golf truly has an impact on the senses. That experience might best be conveyed through photography, which can entice customers to relish the experience for themselves.
“A striking image of a golf hole, in context within its natural landscape, can act as an invitation or a call to action: Come play, come outside and come make memories with family and friends,” longtime photographer Joann Dost says from her golf-rich home base of Monterey, California.
Photography can also significantly diminish the notion that the game is boring (particularly to those who don’t play it) by freeze-framing its beauty, excitement and passion forever. In doing so, it also offers viewers of all interests and experience levels an opportunity to escape from their current lives and feel the breeze, see the ocean and envision their next tee shots.
“It takes people away from the hustle and bustle reality we live in and into a ‘getaway’ mentality,” explains photographer Channing Benjamin, who is based in Palm Springs, California.
Patrick Koenig, a full-time golf photographer like Dost and Benjamin, believes that photography can inspire all types of golfers more than any other marketing method.
“A great photographer puts the viewer in the environment and helps him or her visualize what it would be like to be on the golf course right now,” he adds. “I can’t imagine that there is a better way to tempt a viewer to make a tee time.”
Drone Photography: The Wave of the Future
Within the last couple years, drone photography has been one of the golf industry’s most significant and exciting developments. Benjamin says using a drone is a “game changer” that has “literally taken his work to another level.” And with new technology becoming increasingly affordable, the demand for drones is steadily rising.
“Like all technology, drone photography is improving in quality and decreasing in price, so more photographers are embracing it,” says Dost, whose recent drone work includes the visually spectacular Whistling Rock in South Korea. “Viewers are drawn to see angles and vantage points that were previously impossible to see, as we continue to saturate our visual sense.”
2016 Pikewood National from Pikewood Creative Projects on Vimeo.
As drones continue to improve and more photographers enter the marketplace, drone photography will likely become even more conventional. KemperSports invested in drones to create regular content for two of its most spectacular public properties: Bandon Dunes on the Oregon coast and Sand Valley in Wisconsin.
“Drone images have dramatically improved our ability to capture photos and angles that were previously done in a helicopter,” says Lesnik. “If a photo can say more than a thousand words, a drone video says more than a million words.
Pacific Dunes No. 3 from Bandon Dunes Golf Resort on Vimeo.
Drone photography not only captures the topography of courses, but can also provide viewers aerial perspectives of courses’ events. When conducted legally (drones can’t be flown over groups of people, unless they are members of the photography crew), drone photography can become “the wave of the future,” Benjamin says. Drones may even replace the blimps that have flown over courses for years, providing aerial imagery of tournaments.
“With a drone, you can compose a sequence starting at a bird’s eye view, and then drop down to show the individual hole or player and the action happening there,” Dost says. “There is a lot of freedom with the drone that didn’t exist before. It gives us a sense of the spectator galleries, the overviews of the course layout and the surroundings of where the events are played.”
In the past, photographers relied on lifts or helicopters to capture the images they now shoot with drones. It was often difficult, time consuming and, in the case of helicopters, costly. Now armed with drones, photographers can remain in one location and capture numerous images of golf courses from different angles in a relatively short period of time.
“It’s also altered the way I view a course when I’m scouting it,” says Weston, Connecticut-based photographer Evan Schiller. “I can use my still camera from the ground, along with my drone in the golf cart—at any given time. It has given me tremendous versatility.”
Capture. Publish. Inspire.
Aside from capturing the beauty of a course or the uniqueness of an event, photography also tells a story, often in a very short amount of time. Since the intrinsic beauty of golf courses is already assumed, they must reveal why they stand out from others as quickly as possible.
“It is important that, usually within a few seconds, a golf course communicates why it is so much more special than its competitors,” says Al Castro, general manager and chief operating officer at La Quinta, California’s Tradition Golf Club.
Photographs can provide potential customers their first glance at a course, so an outstanding initial impression is necessary. Golfers often aren’t able to visit courses before they play them, so photography can have a direct impact on whether or not they decide to visit. Talented photographers such as Mike Klemme, Brian Morgan, Kevin Murray and Jim Krajicek are among those who have built a successful niche in the golf industry.
“I understand the challenges that golf course owners face in attracting new golf patrons, whether through memberships, daily fees or special events,” says Krajicek, whose golf photography company is celebrating its 25th year, helping clubs “present their most valued asset — their golf course — as it has never been seen before.”
The importance of social media outlets and websites, particularly ones that provide copious amounts of high-resolution images, can’t be understated either.
Likewise, courses should be encouraged to utilize drone photography to share what Castro describes as “moments during golf rounds” that wouldn’t have been captured otherwise.
“In today’s society, technology has grown to become a part of everyday life. Through social media, smart phones and iPads, golfers can have instant previews of any courses in the world,” says Gary Billington, sales and marketing manager for the new Mossy Oak Golf Club in West Point, Mississippi. “It is vital for golf courses to continue taking new photos—and then publishing them on their social media pages and websites—to regularly provide golfers new material.”
With the aforementioned “a picture is worth a thousand words” adage in mind, Jesse Reiter, Golf Magazine’s photo editor, adds that courses simply can’t afford to have mediocre images. Not only do the best images lead customers to envision themselves at the courses, but they also inspire them to set aside time to actually transform their visions into reality.
“Mediocre pictures give you pause, while good pictures transport you to the location,” Reiter stresses. “However, great pictures make you want to get off your couch and visit the location yourself.”