Filming a golf course at dawn

Huntercombe golf club 4th hole aerial

Filming a golf course at dawn in mid-summer. Multiple cameras, extraordinary light, a unique subject and little time yielded a stunning film with real soul.

I consider myself a morning person. I jump out of bed an hour before sunrise. I ablute, practice yoga and brew the day’s first and best coffee. As the caffeine permeates my blood vessels, it awakes those senses and parts that have sneaked an extra 30 minutes slumber without permission. Wisps of the sun’s corona break the horizon, I’m there, in mind, body and spirit, ready to nail the new day. I’ve got this and no-one can stop me.

That’s the myth.

The reality is different. At 51 degrees north, where long summer days ensure vampires get only part-time wages, I often go to bed later than my circadian requirements. Tearing myself away from a warm bed before sparrows start flatulating is as enticing as pulling gaffer tape off ones own chest hairs.

Usually the ablutions get done and the yoga is put off. I’m barely conscious enough to realise that the intravenous caffeine drip doesn’t exist and I make my own coffee. By this time the Sun has had its breakfast, read the news and cleared up. Magic hour is long gone and I check the weather for the following morning to see if it’s another glorious candidate for camera and human.

On the days where I am out there, lens in hand as Sol raises his head, the rewards far exceed the pain.

As it was on a day near mid-summer when our team met at Huntercombe Golf Course 10 minutes before dawn. This particular course is considered a historical classic in golf course design, with unique contoured greens and a style of fairway hazard which are a signature of its designer Willie Park Jnr.

To capture those features and the deep undulations of the greens we needed the sun low to the ground. Only by filming the long shadows could the photography do justice to the depth and intricacy of the course’s contours. Additionally when the sun is low in the sky, it’s filtered through thousands of miles of atmosphere resulting in enchanting colours that is a Midas with everything it touches.

Huntercombe greens

The sun of course rises in the sky giving us a window of only 90 minutes to capture the best shots. After that, Midas goes home and everything flattens out as the shadow’s shorten.

With drone, gimbal and tripod, we trooped out from the clubhouse to the 16th hole, leaving footprints in the morning dew on the velvet practice green.

As we arrived at the fairway, the sun was still below the tree line behind us. In front was the 16th green and expansive fairway.

The sun crept above the trees and the dew covered blue-green grass in front of us exploded into golden greens. The mounds and pots on the right of the fairway became clearly defined, their top grasses a blazing vibrant halo of gold. These features are barely older than a year and yet look like they could be ancient neolithic barrows, such was the vision of Tim Lobb of Lobb + Partners, the architect brought in to make improvements to the course but remaining faithful to Willie Park Jnr’s vision.

The drone was up in the air immediately, tracking down the fairway filming the ‘barrows’ and pots. The long shadows, delivered the foot by foot difference between hazard and safety for the over ambitious tee-shot.

After filming the master angles and gimbal tracking shots on the 16th we hurriedly shouldered our gear and marched off to the 4th green. The sun inexorably rising behind us, a constant reminder that time was against us.

Huntercombe 4th green front facing pot

From a distance of 100 or more yards the 4th green looks like a large expanse of verdant close cropped grass, guarded by a couple of small rises at the front edge. On closer inspection the green is on 3 levels with slopes and contours in every direction. Those two small rises, reveal themselves to be the rear walls of several deep trenches with more than 6 feet to chip over should a wayward ball fall a little short of the green.

Again the drone was first to go. Its wide angle lens capturing every pit, slope, hollow and contour of the green and surroundings. Tracking in from behind the trees at the back of the green, it revealed a golf hole that strikes equal measures of fear, wonder and exhilaration in the player who takes it on. The gimbal shots show the players view as they ponder playing the best shot of their life to recover from Willie Park Jnr’s genius hazards.

By eight we were back having a socially distant coffee, checking the morning’s catch which didn’t disappoint. The rest of the day we filled shooting b-roll and a conversation between Huntercombe’s General Manager and Tim Lobb.

With an eye on focus, an ear on sound quality, it was a privilege to share two passionate golfers insights through the lens of a camera. We were creating,\ not just a film, but revealing a small corner of a golfing tapestry enjoyed by millions around the world.

Here’s the completed video we made for Huntercombe Golf Club and Lobb + Partners.