Golf photographer Dave Cannon has travelled around the world almost 100 times, capturing more than 1,400 courses and the incredible players that have graced them. Here he talks about his life behind a lens and names his favourite golfing destinations
When did you first play golf?
My dad put a club in my hand when I was just 18 months old — I always had golf clubs around me. I didn’t play seriously until I was 14, because cricket took up most of my time before that. By the time I was 16 though, I really started to push on with golf and got my handicap down to nine from 20-something.
How serious was your golf?
I did actually manage to finish 14th in the English Amateur Championship when I was about 19, and I came down to scratch and played about 30 times for Leicestershire. At the time I was working as a salesman at a nylon sheet company in Leicester and the person I worked with was a mad-keen golfer, so we managed to fit in a lot of golf around work.
When did the photography start?
My dad introduced me to Neville Chadwick, a fantastic person, who happened to run the Leicester news service and covered all the Leicester City and Tigers games. I was always keen on photography and he asked me to come down to a game and sit with a camera. I sold my old Mini in the garage for about £200 and went to Jessops to buy a really nice Canon. I was totally untrained, but the first time I went with him to a match it was when the Midlands played against the All Blacks at rugby in 1978. He told me to sit in a corner and take pictures, and I got a nice picture of Les Cusworth (Leicester Tigers and England international) with a massive All Black chasing after him. The next day Neville rang and told me to get the Sunday Express and there was my picture. Well, that was it, I was hooked.
How did you get into golf?
After working with Neville, I joined a company called All Sport and did a lot of football until the 1990s, and was only really about to do golf in the summer. But I was at Hillsborough and seeing that first hand was a real kick in the guts — it turned me off football.
After that I did a lot more golf than ever before. I’d be covering every European Tour event, so I was travelling around the world a lot. Johnny Walker became a big client, then Heineken, then Dunhill, so I’d be doing all their big golf events. I was working as the official photographer at loads of competitions — I did 10 Ryder Cups as the official photographer. In fact this year (2018) is the first Ryder Cup that I’ve been to as just a normal photographer and not the official one.
What do you call a ‘lot’ of travelling?
I reckon on average I did about 24 tournaments year, sometimes 30, and I’d spend half a year away. I worked out the other day that I’d spent about 5,000 nights in hotel rooms and I’d travelled more than 94 times around the world in an aeroplane.
What about the courses?
I reckon I’ve been to more than 1,400, and played 850 of them. I always try and fit in a round in wherever I go. I played Portrush yesterday evening — terrible golf but an amazing course. My handicap isn’t what it was; it’s about 9.6 now. Once I got into professional photography it signalled the start of 20 years of not hitting a golf shot seriously — all my effort went into being a photographer and not a scratch golfer.
First big golf course you played?
Augusta National in 1984. I’m very lucky, if you took the top 100 courses in the world, I’ve been privileged enough to play around 80 of them.
Greatest golf photo?
Seve [Ballesteros] in 1984 on the 18th green or the action pic in from 1988 — sometimes single images can define someone’s career and I think those two did exactly that. He was so massive to European golf, he used one of those pictures for his logo too. It’s actually very funny, I was photographing him once and noticed this tattoo on his forearm, and it was my picture. Even before this, I was lucky enough to play with him in a pro-am, before anybody knew who he who he was. I drew him because I was the lowest handicapper at my club — I could never have known how well I’d get to know him or how big he would get at the time. I was still selling nylon sheets!
Best non-golf photo?
Beyond golf, I think the picture I took of Carl Lewis defined his career too — he reckons it’s the best picture he’s had taken. To be in a position to capture a split second of someone’s career as a job is quite a privilege.
Best course you’ve photographed?
Turnberry is number one every time for me. Even before the changes, I loved it. My mum was based there during the war and we stayed there on many family holidays, so it’s been in the family all my life.
Any advice for budding golf photographers?
You’ve got to absolutely live and breathe golf. If somebody came to me who wasn’t a golfer, I’d be very surprised if they could do golf photography. People don’t understand the time involved. They’ve not only got to understand the game, but to love it too.
Dave Cannon is senior golf photographer at Getty Images.