David Cruickshanks, freelance golf photographer and regular GM contributor
I write this hot-foot from the Swilcan Bridge at St Andrews? as Lorena Ochoa prises her blue lips from the ice-cold silver of the Ricoh Womens? British Open trophy, after kissing it for the 50 photographers no fewer than three times, while a snow shower threatens to invade the East coast links.
After downloading my images for the world?s newspapers and magazines, including Golf Monthly, I reflect on what has been ? for me at least ? a pictorially disappointing tournament.
Now don?t get me wrong, it?s not sour grapes, as professional photographers we all miss a good shot now and again but – and you knew there was one coming – to get the chance to take one in the first place we need to get close enough to the action and that is my beef. A multitude of factors contributed to a dearth of striking images ? check the press cuttings if you don?t believe me – at what promised to be such a groundbreaking event, but for me it was the curse of the golf marshal that ruined my week.
These volunteers, who are kitted out in the sponsors red coats, pose in various guises, there are crowd marshals, fairway marshals, green flag marshals, red flag marshals, in fact more marshals than in Dodge City during a Gunslinger?s Convention. However, when they see a photographer on the radar they transform into a giant anti-photographer marshal. They suddenly take great delight from telling the frustrated photographer that he can?t stand there, or there, or in fact anywhere that there is the remotest chance of taking a good, unique golf photo.
I stood on the 1st tee with my accreditation around my neck, my photographer?s armband – which looks like a relic from Nazi Germany by the way and provokes the same negative response – ready for the day. As Catriona Matthew, the doughty wee Scot, swiped a few midges with her practice swing I was tapped on the shoulder and asked if I was an official photographer. I, somehow, resisted the temptation to ask him if I should stamp the word photographer on my forehead and showed my credentials. I then stood in front of the clubhouse to do an iconic image of Michelle Wie driving down the first fairway. As soon as I raised my telephoto lens there were not one, but two marshals on EACH shoulder, ushering the nasty golf photographer away. Meanwhile, television cameras invaded every nostril of every golfer, zooming about in golf carts with impunity, often getting in the way of stills photographers at the vital moment.
The marshals returned to sentry duty, mission accomplished and I trudged out onto the course, seeking a great image to embody the sublime skill of womens? golf and the tradition of St Andrews.
To the Road Hole! Flanked by its corporate hospitality tent – acting as a natural amphitheatre – I thought this would provide a dramatic backdrop to a great photograph. The fans are close to the action and hopefully the golfers will react to the ooing and aahing of the crowd, by hitting that magical bunker shot, draining one from 40 feet or even scooping it off the road into the hole followed by a great celebration and I would be there to capture the moment. Well, I would love to have taken one of those iconic shots, if only I wasn?t constantly ushered away from the side of the green by marshals, like a naughty dog who had strayed into forbidden territory.
However, these incidents were not confined to a few over zealous officials, there seemed to be some sort of virus of officialdom raging through the marshalling fraternity. On the second day I crouched down to line up a shot of Ochoa teeing off on the 18th and – just as I pressed the shutter – a marshal waltzes casually into frame and spoiled the image. The rules laid down by the powers that be stated no arguing or discussion with officials. So no picture and no one to discuss it with either. Superb!
Okay, so tees were producing run of the mill shots, which, frankly an amateur could have taken on practice day and the greens were guarded by more red coats than a Butlins away day, but what can you do? Undeterred, I headed for the fairways. I arrived at the 13th just as Laura Davies approached her ball. It was plugged in the sand, not only a great photo opportunity but a chance to get a bit closer and watch a golfing genius at work. I clambered under the ropes and headed over the rough to sit far enough away from the golfing giant to prevent her from hearing the shutter. Then came that well worn tap on the shoulder
?Excuse me sir but you must remain within one metre of the ropes at all times,? chimed the marshall.
?But I have to get closer, there?s a good shot for the newspapers here,? I argued. ?Sorry sir but you must remain within one metre of the ropes,? came the robotic reply. I considered removing his batteries but decided to spend my energy getting a shot of a disgruntled Laura, who by now had thrown the club at her bag. I had missed a good shot, which would have depicted to newspaper readers that golfers have bad days too. It can?t all be grinning with the trophy pictures. Another golf photographer tried to follow on some 50 yards behind Laura to get a shot of her against the St Andrews skyline but was ?marshalled?, he protested and a policeman was called. I mean come on we are trying to work here!
I have never seen a marshal approach an invasive TV crew or obstruct a golf writer from watching the telly in the media tent (you know who you are) but it is open season on golf photographers and quite frankly it isn?t good enough. So come on powers that be, relax the rules on golf tournament photography or the column inches you want to see depicting the skill of the golfer will be filled by overpaid footballers diving about all over the place.
Thankfully, it wasn?t all doom and gloom. I followed the Pink Panther, Paula Creamer, for a few holes during the Pro-Am. She is bubbly – bordering on scatty – and hardly stands still, apart from addressing the ball and I?m not sure she does that either. At the 10th tee she stopped for a burger and happily posed for pictures with fans. I was happy with the pictures and was ready to send them back to the newspapers but I decided on staying a bit longer.
There was a backlog on one of the tees and she started talking to the local policeman, then he took out his retractable truncheon and showed her how to flip it out. She couldn?t do it and she creased into fits of giggles, eventually managing to extend it at the fourth attempt. The resulting picture blew away the stuffy image of golf in one fell swoop. I rushed back and the pictures were transmitted to the world?s media. I went back to my hotel happy that a shot like this would be published. Little did I know that three holes later Paula did a cartwheel in front of the Swilcan Bridge, which was photographed by one of my competitors. Where are those golf marshals when you need them?