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  • Writer's pictureRichard Mandell

Picking Pictures from the Architect’s Perspective

My personal battle between the business of golf architecture and my avocation that is golf architecture is a struggle on many fronts. As a guy who is constantly preaching affordability, I have developed a reputation which requires that I keep my creativity in constant check. Golf architects are always accused of “building monuments to themselves”. I wonder if it is the ego of a golf course architect that results in this stereotype or is it just that right side of the brain creativity which most designers have (in any field). Nonetheless, the successful golf architect in this economy needs to keep their egos and creativity in check.

One of my favorite office tasks is to review photographs of my work for use in marketing materials. The bottom line is that my avocation is a business and if I want to provide for my family I better think like a businessperson. That means I have to market Richard Mandell Golf Architecture to potential future clients. The best way to do that is to show them some final products, best accomplished through photography.

Unfortunately, this is a labor of love because of the constant battle to choose photographs which will appeal to the masses rather than choosing my personal favorites. The little details of golf architecture that I love are often times not the same things my clients may like or the golfing public may appreciate (or even notice). This reality is never more apparent than when I choose photographs of my work for use in brochures, awards competitions, or other means of marketing.

The harshest reality I have accepted through years of choosing photos for my business is that my favorite shots are the last to consider for a brochure. Sad, I know. Because of this hurtful revelation, I am forced to load my wallet with a bunch of mini-shots of random bunkers and mounds and putting surfaces.

I just love those little details of design that never photograph well such as a grass hollow, a ripple in a fairway which can propel a golf ball forward (or backward), or the randomness of a sand bunker line. Unfortunately for me and my preferences, the golfer is more interested in overall aesthetics or how to get the golf ball into the hole in the least number of strokes. Oh yeah, the golfer is also hung up on fairness as well. If an architectural tweak results in an idiosyncratic roll in the wrong direction, creativity and great strategic design are thrown in the trash.

It is amazing to me how much the average person appreciates the presence of water in a golf picture. Inevitably, the most popular shots are the ones of golf holes with features that can do the most damage to one’s scorecard. Hey, I’d rather live by the Ocean just like everyone else. I guess there is a connection there.

I also have noticed that people really appreciate the view of a golf hole from the green going backward as well. This one perplexes me to no end. Architecturally speaking, there are usually no redeeming qualities in these shots. But there is the comfort of a flagstick in the foreground, rolling green hills in the mid-ground, and more of the same in the background. Not that this should be a sociological analysis, but I guess there is a connection between the preference for this angle and wanting to live on golf courses as well.

That backwards shot is tied directly to the elements of design as they relate to photography (i.e. composition, balance, light, etc.). Ironically, the elements of design are what I know makes great golf course architecture, yet I find myself wanting to throw those fundamentals out the window when I want to show the world the results of my design process. Apparently composition in photography is more important than a really neat sand line dipping below a mound and then rising dramatically into a hillside.

Light and shadow are more considerations when choosing photographs that far outweigh great architecture. Can’t stand that rule either. I have so many great shots that are just buried on my hard drive because the photo looks flat, no color pops off the paper, or everything is enveloped in a monochromatic shadow.

I guess the bottom line with this rant is that as the years go by, I gain more and more appreciation for a golf photographer who can capture that great photograph. Sure the guys on the sidelines of the Super Bowl shooting for Sports Illustrated are incredibly talented, but fighting nature when shooting a golfing landscape takes lots of patience, strategy, and timing. I have been asked to blog more and more about my everyday life and so here is what results when a golf architect is stuck inside in winter, trying to grow his business. Come on by and let me show you MY favorite shots, the ones that will never make it to the public realm.

About Richard: Richard Mandell runs Richard Mandell Golf Architecture in Pinehurst, North Carolina ( Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).

Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008

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