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People in golf: Gary Lisbon, Photographer

Gary Lisbon
Golf course photographer Gary Lisbon.

As a teenager, Gary Lisbon knocked balls around the public courses of Melbourne’s east and the nearby Mornington Peninsula and quickly grew an affection not only for the game, but for its myriad venues. It became a lifelong passion and more to the point, his profession.

Lisbon, one of Australia’s – and the world’s – foremost golf course photographers, started his working life as “a boring chartered accountant’’. Then he and his wife, Maureen, started a small business running corporate golf days. The evolution had begun, and soon they were promoting golf holidays.

Finally, at a corporate day more than a decade ago at Kingston Heath, Lisbon took a camera out on the course on a whim, and snapped some of the participants on the magnificent sandbelt layout.

The view from the 13th tee at Arrowtown. Photo: Gary Lisbon

His future was set. “I always loved courses, loved the architecture and the design,’’ he told “I played as many courses as I could play, and I loved to try to understand the nuances of them. I look back on those (Kingston Heath) photos and realise how bad they were! I still remember with fondness my first paid photo shoot which was at Paradise Palms. Since then I’ve photographed courses in 13 countries around the world.’’

A member at Royal Melbourne and a keen player, Lisbon has published two books of his works Great Golf Down Under and Great Golf Down Under 2, which has the famous seventh hole at The National’s original course on its cover.

He is commissioned by clubs to photograph their courses for publications, for marketing, websites and calendars. His work is also used by and he is on the judging panel for US Golf magazine’s World top 100 courses

Cape Kidnappers
The Pirate's Plank - the 15th at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. Photo: Gary Lisbon

Lisbon has photographed virtually every famous course, from Royal Melbourne, his favourite, to Barnbougle Dunes to the Old Course at St Andrews and Augusta National, around 240 different courses. “I love Royal Melbourne,’’ he said. “There are no ocean views but there are other subtleties that you appreciate when you play it a few times. I really love Barnbougle, both courses. I love Cypress Point in California and the Old Course at St Andrews. It’s the history and the charm of the place that is St Andrews, even though it’s not a visually-exciting golf course at all. I hark back to ‘this is the way golf was played a few hundred years ago’, the cleverness of the greens. Why build two greens when you can have one? And then make the sum of the holes add up to 18. My accounting head finds that pretty funky. Royal County Down is fantastic as well, and Waterville in Ireland.’’

Photographing golf courses, he says, is mostly about finding the right light. “We all have different angles, different perspectives, things that we see in a shot that someone else might not see. You really look at time of the day as most important. Your key times are sunrise plus 1 ½ hours, and then sunset minus 1 ½ hours. That’s typically what you work on. There’s no point taking photos at midday; the sun’s too high and the shadows just look ugly.

“Architecturally-nice courses may not always photograph well. So the key element that generally make nice photographs is when there is clear definition between fairway and rough (for example Barnbougle where it’s all laid out before you), courses with ocean backdrops are always nice, courses that have mountain backdrops or snow-capped mountains that you might get in Queenstown (New Zealand) for instance, courses that are in good condition as opposed to bad condition. Aesthetically they present better, like Augusta or the sandbelt courses or Royal Canberra. The UK courses are challenging to photograph because they’re not always in as good a condition but they’re better to play. They’re not obsessed about manicuring which is refreshing, in a way.’’

His favourite personal photographs include an overhead shot of the 15th hole at Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, the so-called ‘Pirate’s Plank’, where an errant shot sends your golf ball over a 200-metre drop into the ocean, one picture taken at Arrowtown in New Zealand where autumn leaves “explode’’ from the shot, and a snap of the brilliant par-three sixth hole at New South Wales at sunrise, with its spectacular ocean backdrop.

NSW Golf Club
The 6th hole at NSW Golf Club. Photo: Gary Lisbon

Lisbon is spectacularly hooked. In 2012 he went with a friend and played 40 courses in 32 days in England, Scotland and Ireland. Of course, he photographed the lot.

“I don’t think I was ever destined to be an accountant,’’ he said. “It was probably just a little mid-life crisis. I’m combining three things that I love: golf, photography and computers into a business. That’s pretty cool. I get up every day and I love it.’’

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