June 20, 2017
Sorting out the Asia Photographic project.
It’s been a great and very busy start to 2017.
So far my travels this year have taken me to The USA, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Oman, Sharja, France, Crete and also Malaysia and Vietnam.
Unfortunately as I have to travel with so many different airlines I don’t seem to reap the rewards of a frequent traveller and seal the deal with any particular one. That aside when I have time I’m going to try and clock up the miles flown as it’s a question I’m often asked.
One thing that has made travelling slightly more bearable though is my Priority Pass which comes free with the American Express Platinum Card. It gives me Access to their lounges at most major airports and has been a brilliant way to kill some time after checking in. Food and drinks are free and it allows you to take a guest in as well!
The Trip to Asia was initially started with an email from TPC Kuala Lumpur asking me if I could shoot both of their courses. Not having shot any courses in Asia before and even though the original budget got severely reduced, I readily accepted.
At the same time I was short listed to shoot the Ernie Els Courses down at the Desaru Coast, eventually the powers that be decided that I would get the gig and so I started to plan the trip looking at flights and dates that fitted into everyones diaries.
Eventually I sorted out an itinerary that worked for both locations only to get a request from Troon Golf to see if I could fit in another project, which would be to shoot the new Ernie Els Golf Academy at Hanoi Vietnam.
Again after many emails I managed to organise an Itinerary that worked for all 3 venues, sorting out days needed to cover all of the courses that needed to be photographed and just as important kept travel costs and fight times down to a minimum.
And so on the 11th March 2017 I started on this epic trip by leaving Heathrow late in the evening on my way to Kuala Lumpur. Even though I managed to catch a couple of hours sleep on the 14 hour flight, nothing really prepares you for the 8 hour time change and the jet lag that kicks in from being awake for the best part of 36 hours.
Having been transferred from the airport directly to the Golf Course, I hit the road running with a twilight tour of both of the courses at TPC KL, after downloading the test shots I crashed at my hotel about 11pm.
Sunrise was about 6am but having slept for a much needed 6 hours I felt surprisingly Ok when my driver dropped me off back at the club about 5.45 AM. Even at this crazy time in the morning there was a hive of activity at the caddie masters desk. Both courses were fully booked with the 1st tee times going out at 6.15 AM. Players and Caddies were loading up their buggies and making their way to the 1st and 10th tees.
What surprised me most about the TPC KL is that there are no course maps of either course and even worse no hole numbers on the actual Holes. The reason being for this is because all groups of players have to have a caddie with them to not only to advise on club selection and reads on the greens but to actually direct them around what in some cases can be a very confusing routing. Driving around on my own, it took me a day to work out the correct numbering of holes on the East Course therefore underlining the importance to play the course first as part of the photographic preparation.
I was there for 4 days in total and each day like clockwork at 4 pm the weather changed. From the sanctuary of the clubhouse I witnessed some of the most amazing and aggressive storms Mother Nature could throw at us and then at 6pm as if by magic they would pass revealing brilliant and dramatic Sunsets.
I really enjoyed shooting TPC KL, both courses are terrific tracks and were in amazing condition. The surrounding parkland at times makes It easy to forget that you are right in the middle of one Of Malaysia’s Biggest Cities!
Next stop Hanoi!
Part of my preparation for the trip also included checking out Visa requirements and at the moment there is a 14 day free zone for Brits which ends in July 2017. It’s really important to double check this as it’s a long way to travel & not be accepted into the country because of a technicality!
The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hanoi takes about 3 hours, armed with my book and also the Taboo iPad box set, time passed quickly.
My knowledge of Vietnam was based on growing up in the 60’s. I was reminded of the terrible visions that were constantly on display in the media of the pain and suffering endured by many. So I really didn’t know what to expect!
As we came into land the weather was gloomy and overcast making the surrounding country side looking grey and unappealing.
The One hour Journey to The Academy took us through a mixture of run down areas and small but busy towns so my first impression was of a country that was still feeling the backlash of 50 years ago. In the more built up areas the main mode of transport is on mopeds. The drivers seem to have their own code of driving weaving in and out of traffic in a chaotic dance that very rarely ends up with an accident.
Arriving at the Academy I was greeted with a group of young Vietnamese golfers who were ready to be part of the first photo session. The light was still very overcast and the Humidity was exceptionally high. These conditions aren’t the best for producing good collateral images but because of time scales we persevered.
Over the next 3 days my comprehensive brief was to show all aspects of the new Academy. The weather stayed the same and so most outside shots had to be carefully lit with my selection of Canon flashes.
The Academy is run by Wayne Johnson who back in the Tiger days used to be Butch Harmons right hand man. He’s a very good an extremely knowledgeable coach and a great guy with some amazing stories of Butch, Tiger and other players in the Harmon camp.
I was staying in downtown Hanoi which is an amazing city, my only regret was that I didn’t get the chance to explore it properly especially during the day. Hopefully there will be another chance in the near future.
There are plans to build an 18 hole course next to the Academy which when finished will make the location one to definitely visit.
The last part of my journey was to fly from Hanoi to the Desaru Coast located at the South tip of Malaysia.
Here I was to photograph the new Ernie Els Desaru Golf Center which has 54 holes of pure delight. However to get there I had to fly to Singapore and transfer from there by car.
As you leave Singapore Island you have to go through passport control and at any given time of the day thousands of cars trucks buses and bikes would be using the same route into Malaysia. We happened to hit it when it was at it’s busiest and what sometimes only take 10 minutes to cross the bridge took over 2 hours, as this is less than a 1 km journey it was slightly frustrating to say the least!
3 and a half hours later we eventually arrived at The Ernie Els Desaru Golf Center I was immediately welcomed by a very old friend Paul Booth the Director of Golf (DOG!!). Paul and I go way back to the early days of Saadiyat and also Abu Dhabi Golf clubs!
By this time It was late afternoon and so we did a quick tour of the courses so that I was ready to go early the next day!
What excited me most about this location was the diversity of the 2 Golf courses. The Els design Ocean Course has 27 holes of which each 9 has it’s own particular different styling. The Coast 9 for me was probably the strongest for both playing and shooting but equally the Lakes and Ridge
are both very strong layouts.
The newly opened Vijay Singh Valley Course for me is probably the most spectacular course that I covered on this trip. The long rolling and undulating holes offered up some amazing shooting opportunities especially with some stunning sunsets helping to show it off with some incredible displays of evening light.
And so after 3 weeks of traveling it was time to go home, the return trip to Singapore was much quicker and I later found out there’s also a ferry service from Pengerang which takes you directly to the Changi Airport a journey that you could do in under an hour!!! So you live travel and learn.
There is also a 3rd Els course as part of the folio and is situated further North in Langkawi, I’ve heard great things about the Teluk Datai Rainforest course, hopefully going over soon to check it out.