Michael Alexander speaks to former RAF Leuchars photographer Iain Lowe who is celebrating the beauty and history of Scotland’s links golf courses in a new book featuring high resolution aerial photography.
Having photographed the world famous Old Course in St Andrews for more than 25 years, former RAF Leuchars photography unit chief Iain Lowe still sees new things every time he steps on to the hallowed turf.
It might be how the light catches a bunker or, when he sends up a drone to capture aerial shots, it might be how dramatic and undulating the ground looks as shadows lengthen.
However, he’s also learned over the years that sometimes things happen on the golf course where it becomes about more than the photograph he’s taking.
The first time Iain experienced this was one night when he was on the ninth hole of the Old Course.
“I saw two guys walking around with a video camera,” he recalls.
“The sun was low in the sky. It was a very dramatic evening. Lovely lighting.
“They came up and we started talking. It turns out they were US Navy veterans.
“We started chatting. “I said ‘are you playing tomorrow’? They said ‘no we’ve only travelled to Scotland to the Old Course to video it, because it had been on our father’s list that he always wanted to come here and now ill health means he’ll never be able to travel.
“We are spending a week here getting video of the course and the town to take back to him’.”
Home of Golf
Iain says that, and other experiences besides, mean that the Old Course is always going to be his favourite place to go and take photographs.
However, as someone who spent the first 45 years of his life as a “nomad” living and working in military circles, spending time photographing golf courses has also helped him appreciate the beauty and stature of what’s on our doorstep.
“The thing is sometimes we walk down the street and we see the same view every day and we don’t realise how lucky we are,” he says.
“That was brought home to me once again on the Old Course.
“I was up on the top balcony of the St Andrews Golf Club about 9pm one night.
“There was the snooker room behind me. I had the tripod set up taking pictures of the R&A with a dark storm cloud on top, but the course was bathed in a really beautiful golden light. It had very long shadows. The Valley of Sin was in deep shadow.
“I was concentrating on taking the pictures, running off a couple of rolls of film.
“And then I heard this voice over my shoulder – it was a member of the club, and he just murmured ‘sometimes we forget where we live’.
“That was the Old Course again. Just the beauty of it and the world famous setting. But it could be applied to so many golf courses and locations in Scotland. I just love it.”
Career in the military
The son of a Royal Navy pilot, Iain travelled around a lot as a youngster.
His grandfather was a farmer next to Tulliallan Golf Club at Kincardine and it was here, as a youngster, that Iain would spend summer holidays searching for golf balls.
He joined the military as an RAF photographer in 1970 and after serving for 24 years where he ended up running the photographic unit at RAF Leuchars, he took early retirement in 1994 and bought a guest house in St Andrews.
There, he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world.
However, when he realised he wasn’t being challenged enough by the hospitality industry, he started a niche business doing golf course photography at a time when there wasn’t much of it being done.
New photography career
His first major – and longest running – client was Kingsbarns Golf Links.
He documented the construction phase of the “ground breaking” development from 1997 to 2000, and still does work for them today.
Iain’s son Chris joined the business in 2005, bringing with him a background in graphic design.
He brought the business into the 21st century as photography started to go digital and today, their arsenal includes four drones that allow them to do very high resolution stills photography and up to 4k video recording as well.
However, Iain also started producing books – his first being in 2000 when he did the Official History of the Open Championship for the R&A.
In their latest, Iain and Chris have teamed up with noted Scottish golf historian and fouth generation St Andrean David Joy to produce ‘Scotland, Home of Golf’.
Stunning air and ground photography coupled with fascinating facts, historical context and meticulously drawn illustrations offer readers a visual journey across 14 iconic golf courses in Scotland to honour the birthplace of golf.
From the breath taking grandeur of the Old Course, the oldest in the world, to the Carnoustie Golf Links, home of “Golf’s Greatest Test,” the 14 courses featured in Scotland, Home of Golf represent 600 years of the game’s history.
The courses are showcased from the air and the ground in captivating photos that illuminate the singular topography and inspired architecture of the links form of golf.
Woven throughout is information sharing the rich history of the courses and the greatest players to have played them— including moments of great sadness, of great joy and incredible achievements.
Four modern designs, constructed since 2000, are also included as the most sought-after new links golf experiences.
The highlighted courses in order of appearance are: Carnoustie, Kingsbarns, The Old Course, Dumbarnie, Muirfield, North Berwick, Turnberry, Prestwick, Royal Troon, Castle Stuart, Royal Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Trump International and Royal Aberdeen.
‘Love letter’ to links courses
Speaking to The Courier from his now home in Dalgety Bay, Iain says the book is a “love letter” about Scottish links courses. It’s also their best efforts to show that this is far more than just a game of club and ball – it can be a “consuming passion.”
“Course selection is always a difficult one,” says Iain.
“Back in 2005, David and I did a book called Scottish Golf Links: Old Tom and his Journey, which also won a gold medal in the sports and recreation category.
“It had 50 or 52 Scottish links courses, as well as Gleneagles in it. It was a very encompassing book about everything to do with golf and the beauty of Scotland.
“This time I wanted to focus it down on the ones that may be more familiar to people.
“Now, having drone photography and not having to wait for a helicopter to try and get the helicopter flight to coincide with high tide and good weather, the drones allowed us, at a moment’s notice, to visit somewhere to get the best conditions.
“We were able to illuminate the courses in a different way to how we had in the past.
“That was a reason for focussing it down to 14 courses. But it could have been more!
“The problem is in Scotland we are just spoiled for choice!”
The Lowes have four photographic golf book titles to their credit.
Iain’s award-winning career of some 50 years includes 25 years shooting Scottish golf courses, and the publication of nine golf books featuring evocative photographic course tours.
While Scotland is home to the Lowe’s photography business, they have also performed commissioned work around the world in destinations such as the US, Cyprus, Morocco, Australia and South Africa.
Iain has been grateful, however, for the opportunity to work with David Joy, who is also known for his compelling and accurate portrayal of Old Tom Morris in acclaimed performances around the world.
“There’s two things I feel really passionate about – one is photography and the advances in technology in recent years,” says Iain.
“But because of David Joy, I’m also a little bit consumed by the history.
“I suppose after being a nomad for the best part of 45 years of my life, to put roots down in St Andrews meant so much.
“When David and I were doing our first book, we were walking around the cathedral.
“He showed me a little concrete pillar on an outside set of steps near the cathedral.
“The pillar was worn away by the fisher wives sharpening their knives on this over hundreds of years – that tangible link to the past.
“And then of course you go into the cathedral grounds and you see the monuments to Old and Young Tom Morris and Alan Robertson as well.
“So yes, I’m in awe of the history as well – I absolutely love it – and that’s thanks to David who just brings it all alive, with humour as well! He’s told me such a lot and I love him for it!”
‘Scotland, Home of Golf’ by Iain and Chris Lowe and David Joy is available through www.scottishgolflibrary.com for £29 including first class UK postage.