William Watt's Lofted promises 'far flung adventures for modern golfers'. Steve Carroll sat down with him to find out more about his passion for the sport, exploring, and photography
I’m never more inspired than when there’s a new course to conquer or surroundings to explore. And whether it’s thumbing through ranking lists to find a place I haven’t yet ticked off, or scheming an expedition with pals, sometimes the planning is as enjoyable as the trip itself.
For William Watt, new experiences are the essence of golf – “I love nothing more than playing a golf course for the first time, discovering each hole as the architect planned it and as nature embraced it,” he says.
“Walking up a fairway for the first time, as the green slowly emerges from behind a bend in the dogleg, the possibilities and challenges ahead start flooding my mind – it’s a feast for the senses.”
He takes a similar approach to his work. A professional photographer, Watt founded Caddie Magazine four years ago and its stunning imagery has captivated those of us who yearn to travel with a set of clubs on our back.
His new book ‘Lofted: Remarkable & far-flung adventures for the modern golfer’ takes us on a journey of discovery across the globe, telling tales from the Outer Hebrides to the windswept King Island in the Bass Strait off the coast of Australia.
I asked Watt about his motivations behind the book, what makes a great photograph in this Instagram age, and what inspires his travels…
What was the genesis behind Caddie Magazine?
I’ve been an avid magazine reader for as long as I can remember – my family had a National Geographic subscription and each month another book of incredible photography, illustrations and written pieces from around the world would arrive at our doorstep.
In a pre-internet era, this was really my first window to the world, so a love of print was sort of ingrained in me from those early days, as was my desire to become a photographer.
In my early 30s, as my attention moved from other sports to focus more on golf (a game I had always played and loved but purely socially), I started looking around for a golf magazine with a bit of style – something that didn’t just plonk a top ten player on the cover and promise to ‘fix my swing with these three simple steps’.
I couldn’t find one anywhere, so I would just buy what was available and feed off the snippets of interesting stories hidden in amongst the ads and pro tour news which I didn’t care about.
But I knew there was so much more to the game than what I was reading – what about the architecture, the destinations, the intriguing stories from around the world thrown up by this great game?
And then there was the thin, cheap paper stock, the quality of photography and design that was well below some independent titles from other industries that I was reading. It felt to me that the great, historic game of golf was being disrespected.
The crystallising moment was on a domestic flight in 2016. One of the best things about flying is an excuse to switch off and read a great magazine so I always buy at least two or three just before boarding.
The flight was delayed after we boarded and had us sitting on the tarmac for around 20 minutes before we took off. In that time, I kid you not, I had read two golf magazines cover to cover.
So I spent the rest of that three hour flight writing down ideas for what I would want to read about, how it might look, who might want to be involved. Just under 12 months later our founding team put together a kick starter campaign to fund our first print run and it’s just grown from there.
How did Lofted come together?
We get emails almost daily asking about some of our past issues which have long since sold out, and being a small independent magazine we aren’t really in a position to order a reprint so we’re constantly having to let people down.
We’re also passionate about print, so just putting these stories up online wasn’t that appealing. So I started thinking about ways to make some of the incredible stories from our four sold out editions available to newcomers to the brand, and a compilation book seemed like a great way to achieve that and more.
Hardie Grant was at the top of my list of publishers to approach, and I was fortunate to arrange a meeting with them here in Melbourne.
I remember getting goosebumps several times during that first meeting – it was so clear they understood our ethos, supported it without reservation, and that they would be the right people to work with on the project.
Those instincts proved to be 100% correct – the experience of working with their team on crafting a massive archive of very disparate stories into a beautiful hardcover book couldn’t have been more enjoyable.
Having the experience and strength of a large publishing house behind us for the first time, we were able to see our stories taken to another level, and the level of dedication, craftsmanship and passion they showed throughout the process was very gratifying.
Hardie Grant was instrumental in story selection, creating a flowing chronology for the book in a way we simply couldn’t have achieved. They also were able to take our design aesthetic and add their own flair and in-house style to prepare it for book form.
The most collaborative aspect of the book design was in image selection and editing, where we probably tested the patience of all involved with the various iterations, but as a photographer getting that perfect was the only option!
We can see more golf images than ever before now – thanks to social media – but what makes a truly standout golf photograph? What are you looking for when you take a picture?
I tend to break golf photography into three categories – spectacular, course, and experience. The spectacular shots aim to make the location really stand out using golden hour lighting, taking unusual or experimental angles (especially with a drone), and focussing on the most unique aspects of the golf course.
For course photos, where the goal is to describe the playing experience, the main thing I’m looking for is the golf course expressing itself.
That can be achieved in different ways, for example with low light bringing out the ground contours, or a particular angle that highlights bunker placements, or a long lens shot that shows an entire snaking par-5 in one frame.
The goal is to allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the image to the point where they are mentally playing that hole – what kind of shot might they hit given this view?
Finally, experience photos bring in all the other parts of the playing experience and touch points along the way – golf is so much more than just getting the ball in hole.
From the moment you enter the driveway, each club or course has its own unique character that is conveyed in a thousand different ways – the driveway, logo, honestly box, putting green, range, views, the way the sun filters through the trees, and so on.
At their best, these shots convey the mood of the place. Occasionally, it’s possible to create an image that combines two of these categories. Even more rarely, all three.
What inspires you: both in your work and in golf?
I’m inspired by new experiences, unplanned adventures and the mystery of the unknown. I love nothing more than playing a golf course for the first time, discovering each hole as the architect planned it and as nature embraced it.
Walking up a fairway for the first time, as the green slowly emerges from behind a bend in the dogleg, the possibilities and challenges ahead start flooding my mind – it’s a feast for the senses.
Similarly with work, I love learning new skills, testing boundaries and taking on unexpected challenges. For example, I certainly never planned to release a book, but when the opportunity arose and it felt right, I embraced the experience and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
What have been the most memorable moments during your golf travels?
The strongest memories are always tied to people or a very special sense of place. The trip we did for Volume Two to Nepal is particularly special to me – six friends from all over the world coming together for a week riding Royal Enfields around the most amazing roads, ending at a golf course like no other – it was a once in a lifetime trip.
And bringing my wife to Askernish on the Outer Hebrides and St Andrews during our honeymoon (and having her enjoy it!) was a wonderful time. And spending a week with our photography editor, Dave Carswell, crossing the Nullarbor, provided an expansive view of our home country.
My solo trips have also provided moments of clarity and joy. In New Zealand, filming the spectacular cliffs at Cape Kidnappers at sunrise, then arriving through the forest at the amazing Tara Iti for sunset – that was a surreal day. Travelling 36 hours to a remote Oregon ranch to discover Silvies Valley and the serene quiet of that place. And many places in between.
The great thing is, there is so much more to see. Golf is an incredible catalyst for exploring new places and I hope to follow that path for a while yet.
Lofted is available from all good booksellers and from Amazon.