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Golftown Journal


Making art in the golden hour

By Lee Pace

My stock-in-trade over four-plus decades has been the written word, but I admit the layering of subjects, verbs and adjectives pales in comparison to the display of a well-conceived and executed photograph. An advertising executive from the early 1920s is credited with coining the phrase “One picture is worth a thousand words,” and I say bravo to that. In the fat coffee table books I’ve crafted for golf clubs the last two decades, I strive for a mix of 50-50 words and images but admit that if not one word is absorbed, the photos make it worth the toil and tariff.

The Sandhills and its golf courses are evolving more and more today as an exquisite canvas for shutterbugs of all makes and models, and the ability to immediately display the visuals on social media and assorted blogs and digital venues multiplies their visibility a millionfold over the old days of weekly and monthly magazines.

John Hemmer, who had a 45-year association with Pinehurst back in the Tufts family days, took photos of the golf, racquet, shooting and equestrian pursuits at Pinehurst beginning in 1925 and dispatched them to newspapers and wire services. He also made prints in his darkroom and mailed them to the hometown newspapers of resort guests. Today the Tufts Archives has some 85,000 Hemmer images in its vast collection.

In 2012, John Gessner — a frequent contributor to this magazine — won the naming contest for the elaborate putting course Pinehurst built on 2.5 acres outside its clubhouse, suggesting Thistle Dhu in a tip of the cap to the pitch-and-putt venue that James Barber built on his Pinehurst property nearly a century earlier. Four years later, Gessner was the first photographer to capture the unique landscape of The Cradle, the resort’s nine-hole short course adjacent to the massive putting green. His early morning shot has appeared in Forbes, GOLF magazine and other outlets, and depicts the brownish wire grass in the foreground, green fairways and putting surfaces in the middle, and blue sky above, the backdrop punctuated by the classic columns and red roof of the south side of the Pinehurst clubhouse. 

Kaye Pierson began taking photos with her phone from her perch on a golf course mower while on her shifts with the resort maintenance staff and in 2013 snapped what she pegged “First Light at Pinehurst.” The Putter Boy statuette looms at dawn from its location within Thistle Dhu, enveloped by a dew-laden grass, fog and glints of sunlight to the east. The image caught fire on social media and has been featured on prints in resort gift shops.

John Patota has had careers as an engineer and a school system administrator, and all along has enjoyed photography as a hobby and avocation, though these days he’s available for hire. He bills himself on social media as “Pinehurst Photographer” and enjoys taking photos of “people doing the things they love.” He’s all over the North & South competitions at the resort and has a special niche capturing the golf course maintenance staff.

Matt Gibson is a native of the United Kingdom, growing up in London and attending the University of St. Andrews, and for two years has been on staff at Pinehurst as its “digital storyteller.” His background on the sandy landscapes of the British Isles provides excellent perspective to generate and curate a rich mixture of images and video clips.

“I think the best sports photographers are the golf photographers,” he says. “You think about an NFL game or a baseball game, you have the same feel essentially every match, right? There are only a certain number of lines you can find. But every golf course is different. The lines are infinite.”

The photographer who has most caught my eye of late is Chris Auman, the 41-year-old nephew of Clyde Auman, a longtime peach grower and state legislator from West End. Chris was among the thousands of spectators ringing the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2 when Payne Stewart sank his putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open, and he’s pictured in the lower right of photographer Rob Brown’s classic “One Moment in Time” panorama. Auman has generated numerous images of the village and the Pinehurst golf courses in recent years, finding particular fodder in the magical light of early morning and late afternoon.

Early one morning, he lined up six Adirondack chairs along The Cradle and captured their glow bathed in the orange of the eastern sky. Crisp fall mornings have provided the setup to capture the village at daybreak and a golf setting with the same technique Hemmer used nearly a century ago — framing the hole with the trunk of a pine tree to one side, and boughs of needles and cones hanging at the top. He’s snapped the 18th green of No. 2 from the veranda, dozens of purple tulips and yellow flowers in the foreground. The passing locomotives and freight cars of the Aberdeen, Carolina & Western Railroad as it skirts the western edge of the resort are a favorite prop.

The ideas are endless.

“I’m drawn to the golf courses in Pinehurst and the Sandhills because one, the nostalgia; and two, the natural beauty,” he says. “I love shooting low light around the village and the golf courses. It brings the dew and the haze into play. You get more interesting colors in the morning. The evening with sunsets can be great, but orange is the dominant color.

“Golf brings people together,” he continues. “Not everyone is into golf, but when I take a photograph of a golf course, people can appreciate the photograph. They can appreciate the beauty of the natural landscape. You are actually bringing people into the sport who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in it. A photo like the chairs beside The Cradle — it asks, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be sitting in those chairs right now?’ People always tell me, ‘Well, I’ve been by there a thousand times and I’ve never seen it quite like that.’”

Late one afternoon, Auman was walking with his camera up the sandy path between the 18th holes of course No. 1 on the left and No. 4 on the right. The light was perfect, just kissing the western edges of the tree trunks and the undersides of the pine needles hanging above. There is sand, wire grass, serrated bunkers and a soft sky.

“I looked up and I just thought, ‘Man, that’s the way this place used to look,’” he says. “That’s what James Tufts saw. That’s what Pinehurst is, and that’s what I was trying to capture.”  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Pinehurst experience for more than three decades from his home in Chapel Hill. Write him at and follow him @LeePaceTweet.