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More Than Just A Pretty Picture

Pretty golf holes, panoramic vistas, wildlife, action shots. Golf photographs are beautiful, and with the advancements in digital photography equipment and photo editing software, everyone is capable of taking quality photographs that can quickly be downloaded to a computer or tablet. We all have a digital camera in one form or another and use it often. The question is, are we getting the most from our photography? Are we using our cameras, photographs and electronic devices in ways that allow us to do our job better? For years I have been using my camera for recreational golf pictures and documentation of projects for my portfolio. But I only recently realized I had just scratched the surface in ways it can be used. Today I am also using my photos for my blog, Twitter, maintenance planning and course improvements, as well as satellite imagery taken from Google Earth as a screen capture on my iPad.

Documentation of work on the course is the most common use of photographs and most of us have a stockpile of these pictures on our computer or in an album. Take advantage of them … we do. At Chautauqua Golf Club, not only is the main golfing season only six months long, but a large percentage of the membership is snowbirds who travel south at the slightest hint of nasty weather, and who can blame them. Most major projects happen when they are not around to see them in progress and, because of this, there can be a lack of understanding and appreciation of all that goes into the off season. To remedy this, a digital photo frame loaded with before, during and after pictures has been placed in the pro shop so golfers can see all that went into the latest renovation project. We are also putting one in our break room loaded with pictures of crew members past and present, completed projects, and scenic golf photos to help keep a positive vibe on the crew.

2011 was a tough year for golf turf at courses nationwide and it was no different at Chautauqua Golf Club. The tough summer combined with a tree problem caused turf loss on three greens in July. Even though the Board of Governors was more than cooperative in agreeing to have trees removed, we felt that we needed to justify the removal to ensure future cooperation with tree removal. Using the properties tag on our digital before and after photos we were able to document the actual times and dates the pictures were taken to show how much more sunlight and air movement the greens were getting now that the trees are gone, an apples to apples type of comparison that we would not have had with a film camera.

Photographs taken for blogs or Twitter accounts are really just an extension of our normal documentation, only distributed faster. We are now able to take a quality photograph or video and put it “out there” almost immediately using the respective apps on our smartphones or tablets. These apps have been a great addition to our communication repertoire, allowing us to get information and corresponding photos to members and guests much quicker than 10 years ago. Have a new traffic pattern you would like golfers to follow? Take a picture of the change and post it. Want to show golfers why you need to ruin their week with aerification? Take a picture of the soil profile. Have a funny looking spot on your turf? Take a picture and put it out on Twitter to get opinions from fellow superintendents and industry professionals.

With the advent of laptop computers, iPads, tablets and photo editing software we are now able to take a picture, download it to the electronic device of our choosing, Photoshop and edit as we please, make notes and drawings on the picture and use it for a presentation at the next board meeting. We hold an annual “Grounds Day” presentation at Chautauqua that is open to both the Board of Governors and the general membership. Pictures have played a large part of this presentation. We are able to bring the course to the group and show them what, how and why certain projects or changes will be happening for the season without the need to take a large group on a tour of the course and potentially disturbing other golfers’ rounds. This season’s presentation included Photoshopped pictures of more greens that need trees removed. Pictures were taken of the holes and Photoshopped to show what the hole will look like without certain trees around them. We feel this will make it easier to get the okay for tree removal in the future.

Some pictures can be taken without even leaving the office using a screen capture feature on an iPad. Chautauqua Golf Club’s 36 holes and Learning Center are laid out over 400 acres and, although there is a fair amount of naturalized area on the property, we felt there were still areas that didn’t need to be maintained and cold be allowed to grow up into low maintenance grassy fields. Using the Google Earth app on an iPad, a screen capture photo was taken of some groups of holes where we thought we would like to develop these areas. The photos were then uploaded to the Skitch app where we were able to circle the respective areas to show our rough and trim mowers where not to mow, all while there was still snow on the ground. The same apps could be used for bird’s eye views of holes to check and remap fairway and approach contours, map drainage, or plan for future cart paths or tree planting. The possibilities are nearly endless.

The important thing to keep in mind is that these photos don’t need to be professional quality to serve their purpose. Quality of photos will likely vary with the quality and type of camera and, while photography equipment can vary in type, preference, and price range from person to person, each has its place and can be used effectively at the golf course. The three main categories are DSLRs, point and shoots, and phone cameras. A high end DSLR camera may take spectacular pictures and have several different options for lenses, but is the price difference really worth it? Unless you are planning to make photography a hobby, a quality point-and-shoot camera will do the job quite nicely. And for those times you are caught without your DSLR or point and shoot, today’s phone cameras are quickly replacing yesterday’s point and shoots in convenience and often quality of picture. Apple’s iPhone 4s, for example, has eight megapixels, a large f/2.4 aperture to let in more light and claims to be able to render nice prints as large as 8×10, although I have not tested this claim.

Photo editing software varies as much as photography equipment. Free software such as Google’s Picasa works well for general enhancement and labeling, but is limited when it comes to much more. Adobe has a nice range of software available from its lower-cost Photoshop Elements package to its mid-range Lightroom to its high-end and very capable Photoshop CS6. What you use and are able to do largely depends on what you are willing to spend. For most applications the Elements package will work well for roughly $90.

Regardless of your equipment and ability, photography can be a fun and handy tool in golf course maintenance. When taking pictures, shoot from different angles and in different light and you will get at least one picture of your subject matter with which you will be happy. I once asked a professional photographer what advice he would offer to an aspiring hobby photographer to get nice looking photos. His response: “Take a hundred pictures, one of them is bound to turn out.” Pretty good, simple advice when you think of it.

Trevor is the golf course superintendent at Chautauqua Golf Club in Chautauqua, New York. Trevor can be reached for comment here tburlingame@ciweb.org.

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