By Ken MacLeod
Like so many key contributors to the rich story of golf in Oklahoma, Enid-based but world renowned golf photographer Mike Klemme was pulled into the game by Landmark Land Co., the company founded partly by Oklahoma pros Joe Walser and Ernie Vossler.
Oak Tree Country Club was the company’s second Oklahoma project after Oak Tree Golf Club (now Oak Tree National). In 1982, at the behest of one of his Oklahoma State pledge brothers Steve Braley, who went on to a long career with Landmark, Klemme drove from Enid to Edmond to take some shots of the fabulous club, which had opened the previous year.
“I’ll never forget driving in there and seeing the helicopter sitting outside out front,” Klemme said. “I had never seen so much wealth.”
It was his first golf course to shoot, but Klemme knew the game and had already done considerable nature photography, so he applied many of the same principles in terms of framing, lighting and scouting.
Several days later he sat in a room with Walser, Vossler and architect Pete Dye as they went over his slides. The reaction was favorable and many were blown up and used for marketing.
Encouraged, Klemme returned to his job at a bank in Enid, but soon asked former Oklahoma State All-American Jimmy Wright for some contacts at other courses he could shoot. That led to jobs at Cypress Point and Olympic Club, and that led to Klemme buying a booth at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in 1984 and advertising his services as a golf course photographer.
The travels of world renowned golf photographer Mike Klemme of Enid is just one of many features in the current Travel Issue of Golf Oklahoma. Click the magazine to read them all, or pick up a copy at your local pro shop.
And that led to shooting over 1,800 courses in 45 countries, amassing over 5 million frequent flyer miles and a lifetime of adventure.
From 1985 to 2008, Klemme would average nearly 100 days a year shooting courses across the globe, in mountains, deserts, jungles, beaches, wherever the fast-growing game was springing up next.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, slowed the pace of new course development, and the real estate crash of 2008 virtually ended it, as courses being developed in the U.S. plunged from about 500 annually to where far more were closing than opening.
Klemme shifted gears seamlessly, devoting months to the hardcover book Celebrating Oklahoma, published in 2007 to help mark the state’s centennial. He developed a system for doing large scale photography and artwork for use in office buildings and sports complexes.
Now, at age 69, Klemme is not as interested in jetting around the world, but still loves to shoot golf courses and is available to courses in Oklahoma who would like to update their images. He recently shot The Territory in Duncan, Southern Hills and others and will work with courses that are not in that ballpark.
“I just love being around young people and feeling their energy for all these projects,” Klemme said.
The keys to a successful shoot remain the same.
“It’s all about light and it’s all about drama,” Klemme said. “If you’re not capturing drama, it’s not going to be a good picture.”
Klemme will do his scouting in the afternoon, then try to capture as many of the key images in the soft evening light as possible.
Closing in on nearly 2,000 courses, here are his top five with a comment on each.
Shooting those were among his best days. The worst was an incident while shooting the Fairmont Springs Golf Resort in Banff, Canada, when a lift collapsed, dropping him 30 feet into a rocky river bed, leaving him with cracked ribs and a bruised kidney but fortunate it wasn’t much worse.
Klemme is still willing to go above and beyond for his clients, if not on a shaky lift. Anyone wishing to chat with him to upgrade their portfolio can contact Mike at email@example.com or call 580-234-8284. His website is www.mikeklemme.com for more information.