11 Dec 2019 | Clubs & Facilities |

Nailing the shot

by Contributor

Gary Lisbon image
Gary Lisbon has photographed hundreds of courses. Photo: Daniel Pockett

By Graham Eccles, Golf Vic magazine There is something magical about a golf course when shadows lengthen across the fairways in the fading light of a warm summer’s evening.

New York Times writer Bill Pennington summed it up perfectly some years back when he wrote that, compared with all the mainstream sports, golf has no equal in terms of setting.

“There are hundreds of golf courses that jut into the ocean, hundreds more that wind through forests, hundreds more with majestic mountain views and hundreds more that flow through parkland valleys,” he wrote.

“Stand on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach, a few feet from the Pacific Ocean with the spray from the waves landing softly on your shoulders…”

Well, I think you get the picture. Gary Lisbon certainly does, because that’s been his life’s work for many years.

What started out as a passionate hobby eventually led this equally passionate golfer to establish himself at the forefront of golf landscape photography in Australia. Lisbon estimates that he has so far photographed over 500 courses in 21 countries.

In 2018 he released his third volume of Great Golf Down Under, a compilation of images from 136 courses in Australia and New Zealand. Designed as coffee table books with few words, the first two volumes each had a print run of 5000 copies and sold out.

A chartered accountant with KPMG for many years, Lisbon developed his love of golf photography into a full-time occupation as part of the corporate golf and golf holiday business he established in 1998, Golf Select.

“I started taking pictures at places like Kingston Heath and so forth and things just grew from there,” he recalled. “I think I am blessed to be able to do something every day that I love doing. Every day is different.

“If I contrast it with my accounting days working in town for a big city firm Monday to Friday, I only had time for golf and my hobby at weekends.

"Now I could be in Australia or overseas taking photos of golf courses, videos and a whole manner of stuff any day of the week. It’s all so varied.”

As Pennington wrote, it’s the setting that is all important to Lisbon. The vista is his focus and most of the time the images are devoid of people.

Taking pretty pictures of golf courses is not always plain sailing, particularly when bad weather intervenes. “It can really muck up your day, big time,” Lisbon said.

“The best light for landscape photography is either sunrise or an hour and a bit afterwards and again at sunset minus one and a half hours. These are the best times when the sun is at its lowest and the shadows are long.

“There’s a richness and warmth in the colours, too. So if there is cloud cover, it really is a wasted day. We did a shoot in Fiji at Denarau a few years ago where we had four days to do the job. There was torrential rain for three and a half days, then the sun came out and we had a two-hour window.

“We ran around like headless chooks grabbing shots wherever we could. We’ve had other weather events too, like in North Queensland where we had to reschedule after losing virtually the whole week.”

When it comes to cameras, Lisbon says he has always been a fan of the digital Canon 5D Mark 1V with a variety of lenses. His favourite and most-used lens is a 24-105mm. And he loves digital “because you shoot and then see the image. If you don’t like it, you simply take another shot”.

He has also fallen in love with drone photography, which he says has added an aerial element to his work. “You get some fantastic images from the air because you really see the look, shape and feel of the course, whether it is the contrast between fairway and rough or, in the case of the sandbelt, the distinctive bunkering,” he said.

“Previously I would go up in helicopters, but they are very expensive and limiting as to where you can go and what you can shoot. They are not always available when you want them, so the advent of drones makes me feel like a kid in a lolly shop.

“I’ve only been using them for 18 months and it annoys me to think of the shots I have missed by coming to drones fairly late.”

Lisbon’s constant smile faded when the subject turned to the tragedy that engulfed him in 2017 when a plane Golf Select had chartered to fly three American golfers to King Island crashed on takeoff from Essendon Airport, killing all five on board.

Lisbon said it was very close to home on a number of fronts. One of the passengers, Glen Garland, was a good friend who had organized three of his buddies to join him on a golfing holiday in Australia. “We had dinner with them and their wives the night before,” Lisbon said.

“I was actually going to fly with them but another engagement came up and I pulled out. It all became quite surreal when I got a phone call asking if I had heard about a plane crash at Essendon. There was so much misinformation before we found out it was their plane.

“My wife Maureen and I went straight to the hotel and spent the next three days with their wives. We are still in contact more than a year later. The whole thing is still very raw for all of us.”

Golf Select has been operating for 20 years, organising corporate golf days and golfing holidays for people either going overseas or coming into Australia and New Zealand.

“Photography, of course, is a key part of our business,” he said. “It helps greatly to be able to showcase nice imagery to people we are trying to entice to Australia, particularly Americans who want to play our sandbelt along with King Island, Barnbougle and the top New Zealand courses.”

But ask Lisbon his favourite course to photograph and it’s on the other side of the Pacific: Cypress Point on the glorious Monterey Peninsula in California.

“It’s a real standout, a place where you could play golf every day for the rest of your life,” he said. “It’s special in so many ways. It’s free from people, has beautiful holes that are through the trees, through the dunes and beside the ocean. It’s a very, very special place.”

Sounds quite like that spray landing softly on one’s shoulders at Pebble Beach.

First published in Golf Vic magazine 2018. Republished with the permission of Golf Victoria

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