As I drove through Manhattan on Monday morning, the text message from KU’s women’s golf coach Erin O’Neil that popped up on my phone bore bad news.
“There was an issue with carts so you and KSU photographer have to hoof it. We will give you rides whenever we can.”
Hoofing around Colbert Hills Golf Course in Manhattan would not be appealing. Set in the Flint Hills on the northwest edge of the booming city, short but steep hills and long transitions between many holes give Colbert Hills a wonderfully wild feel. However, without a cart, carrying all my needed camera gear, while possible, would put an unwelcomed strain on me even in my best walking days.
A new fleet of carts using lithium batteries for power proved to be a classic oversell for Colbert Hills. Batteries were dying in less than 18 holes for carts pitched to easily last 36 holes and more. The Kansas State photographer, Scott Weaver, was stating his case to the head pro when I walked up. The pro feared he would need extra carts held in reserve. Weaver persisted and, eventually, the pro relented giving us each a cart for a limited time. The time allowed me to capture the seven KU golfers in action. That would change on Tuesday, though.
Early evening thunderstorms cut short the 36 holes scheduled for Monday. The second round had to be finished before the final round on Tuesday. The pro’s words to me when I arrived at 7:15 were simple and direct, “Not a chance today.” Thankfully, I had a plan as I looked back to my car with my Specialized Crux cyclo-cross bike on top. Whatever it took to do my job well was my only plan.
With a wide-angle zoom lens in a pack around my waist, a 100-400mm zoom lens on a camera over my shoulder and the heavy 600mm lens left in the car, I took off along the cart paths to reach my first golfer. Road wheels and pedals were on the bike from an early evening ride through the Flint Hills the day before. My thin-soled adidas shoes were not the best for the hills, but otherwise I easily could make my way around the course, at times well faster than in a cart. My coverage wrapped up after seven miles of start-and-stop riding along with some express descents that jacked the speed up to over 30 mph for full-on fun.
Initial reaction from the players, coaches and parents began with surprise, yet as the day wore on and the course took its toll on the walkers, comments ranged from “great idea” to “genius.” That might be a stretch, but I was proud to be able to cover the golfers over multiple holes as easily as I would with a cart.
A photographer even mentioned that I should come up with a cart or clamp allowing me to carry my 600mm lens. That got me to thinking about another cart that could be clamped to a bike to carry a golf bag for a round of golf on my bike. That would be fun.