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There are few landscapes more intricate and thought-provoking than a golf course. And as golfers, we owe it to photographers dedicated to capturing the natural beauty of our beloved courses. In particular, we are forever indebted to Gary Lisbon (@garylisbongolf) for his seemingly magical talent to evoke an emotional attachment to a course, all from a photograph. From a desk job in an accounting shop, to hanging out of helicopters, to award-winning photographs, Gary’s story will leave you craving a trip to one of his featured courses.
Welcome, Gary. Tell us how you got involved with professional golf course photography.
Well, to become a golf course photographer, you can follow the “conventional” route of being a chartered accountant for a major firm – KPMG, in my case – before devising a golf stats program that a few golf pros put to use. For me, this lead to an introduction and working time with Ian Baker-Finch. From there, I started my own business focusing on the corporate golf market.
But seriously, a love for golf and a real passion for taking photos of golf courses helped develop my business from a hobby to a key part of my working life.
Before we dive into golf, give us a better look into your personal life.
I received my business degree in Melbourne, Australia, which is also where I grew up. After school, I joined an accounting firm for a number of years, as I mentioned previously. I furthered my studies becoming a chartered accountant, but my heart was never really in it long-term.
As for photography, I always had the desire to set out on my own, which evolved into starting my own business. I didn’t really have any formal photography training, but I practiced in the Melbourne Sandbelt, which is in my backyard and features a good range of courses to photograph.
Great, so what is your background in golf?
Love playing the game. Badly. I started at the young age of 15, riding along with my parents, who also played golf. I gradually improved to a lifetime low handicap of 5, currently a 9.8. The feeling I got after hitting that one perfect shot in a round lured me to the game. I wanted to do it again and again.
My love for the game was sealed when I had the chance in 2012 to play and photograph some links courses in England, Scotland, and Ireland. My wife, Maureen, very kindly allowed me to go away and play a few of these courses with a good friend of mine who was the General Manager of a top Sydney golf club. And when I say a few, I mean 40. We played 40 courses in 32 days. And we upped the ante by raising money for a children’s charity for every birdie we made, which ended up totaling over $5,000! I still look back on the trip with great fondness.
What makes Gary Lisbon different than other golf course photographers out there?
I feel blessed on a daily basis to be able to do what I love. As I mentioned previously, I did not have a real passion for accounting. Now, I get up every day excited about what the day ahead is going to bring. Maureen says I get to combine my three loves of my life: photography, golf, and computers. And I get paid doing it!
I wouldn’t say I do anything in the photography realm that is overly unique. As photographers, we all see golf scenes differently. And we capture them in different ways. I love taking a look at what my contemporaries are capturing, as it is so often different than how I may have interpreted the scene.
My goal is to capture images that evoke an overwhelming desire to visit the subject course. If I can achieve that, I have done my job.
So, where in your travels has been your most favorite place to shoot?
I’m afraid I can’t answer this with just one location. There are parts of the world that offer vastly different photographic opportunities. The links courses of Ireland are exquisite, especially first thing in the morning. Although, that is typically around 4:00AM in the summer. The natural flow of the land is dotted with an abundance of golf holes that are laid out so naturally, they feel part of the God-made landscape.
The South Island of New Zealand, in particular Queenstown, offers breathtaking scenery with crystal-clear air and mountain backdrops. Also, the Monterey Peninsula in California, in particular Cypress Point, offers a combination of pounding surf with holes carved through wooded landscapes and natural dunes structures.
What has been your greatest challenge as it relates to building prominence as a photographer?
Becoming well-known beyond my own backyard of Australia. Up until about eight years ago, I was fairly well known in Australia for taking photos, but not so much overseas. I then had a chance to visit a number of countries outside of Australia and captured some nice images at a variety of courses. Soon, there was a greater awareness of my work from a global perspective.
I was fairly late to social media, in particular Instagram. Now, I see it as the perfect medium to showcase my imagery to the world. I post a daily photo on Instagram, which my followers seem to enjoy!
What has been your most rewarding moment thus far?
One moment stands out for me. A number of years ago, I was fortunate to win the golf course photograph of the year at the Australian Golf Writers Association (AGWA) annual awards. The photograph was a dramatic shot of Barnbougle Lost Farm and the headland that is home to the 4th hole. The heavy whitecaps gave a sense of how windy it was that day as I hung out the side of a helicopter to get the shot. Keep in mind, this was years before drones hit the scene. It was a scary shot to capture because of the wind, and it was an absolute honor to accept that award.
I won’t say I put Barnbougle on the map, because it was already there, but I believe this shot achieved what I mentioned previously – getting people excited about visiting a particular golf course.
What doors have opened for you as a result of photography?
Wow… so many exciting things have happened for me. I have played golf with people form all walks of life. Australian Prime Ministers, Olympic gold medalists, Wimbledon champions, and even the owner of the Golden State Warriors! I have also played a lot of exciting and exclusive golf courses. To date, I’ve played roughly 82 of the top 100 golf courses. Slowly working toward 100! Finally, a few years ago, I was invited by US GOLF Magazine to be on the panel of roughly 120 people who rate the best golf courses around the world. In short, it has been an amazing ride.
So, what can we look forward to in the future from Gary Lisbon?
More great photos from different parts of the world. I am excited about a trip I’m planning with my wife for next year where we’ll be visiting, among other destinations, Canada. This is one country I have been longing to see for a while. I already have the courses marked out in my head to play and photograph.
Beyond that, look out for more photo shoots in South East Asia, including China, Vietnam, and South Korea. I’m also planning a trip to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so there is plenty to look forward to on the horizon!
Great, let’s run through some rapid fire questions. If you could play 18 holes with anyone, who would it be?
I think I would love to play with Dr. Alister MacKenzie at Cypress Point. To be able to walk the fairways and listen to the man talk about why he did this on a certain hole would be a thrill.
What item is an absolute necessity for you on the course?
While I like to capture images of the grounds, in the last few years, I have been capturing a lot of video and still photographs of the sky. I have also become certified to fly a drone and love it. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, but I have found my DJI Mavic 2 to be an absolute revelation. The image and video quality is first class, and the footprint of the drone is so small, I can easily carry it in my bag. Perfect for interstate or overseas photo shoots.
What is your top bucket list course, and why?
If you define bucket list course as one that I have not yet played, it would be Augusta National. While I have had invitations to play from members a couple times, we have not managed to align schedules. Hopefully, I’ll make it work in the future. It has so much history, and we know every hole from countless hours (early hours) watching an Aussie try to win the Masters. Finally, Adam made it happen! There is also a mystique about Augusta, so I would love to get there one day for a match!