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August 5, 2010


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Local photographer’s book provides aerial views of Cricket Club golf courses

An aerial photo of the Philadelphia Cricket Club from Duncan Pearson’s book.

Since it first opened in 1898, thousands of golfers have enjoyed the picturesque grounds of the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s golf courses. Now, thanks to a new coffee-table book with aerial photographs in color, club members, golfers and local enthusiasts can view these courses from a whole new angle.

Released in July, Duncan Pearson’s 68-page, 13”x13” hardcover book “Philadelphia Cricket Club” includes hole-by-hole photographs of the club’s Wissahickon, Militia Hill and St. Martin’s golf courses. By providing the reader witha view down each hole of the courses, golfers can use the book as a guide to play, to eliminate their bad shots or celebrate success.

“Most golfers remember how they played each hole, even if it’s their first time playing the course,” said photographer/author Pearson. “They point to a picture of a hole in my book and say, ‘my first shot landed on this side of the fairway, then I used my seven-iron which brought it up against that sand trap,’ and so on.”

Each shot was taken from the air using Pearson’s Canon Digital Rebel camera. Photographs of the courses include pictures of the club houses and wide-angle, two-page spreads showing the entire Wissahickon and Militia Hill courses.

Seeing the two courses together lets the reader compare the contrasting designs of these courses. The Flourtown course (later named “Wissahickon”) was built in 1922 by famed architect and club member A. W. Tillinghast in a traditional course design during what was known as the “golden age of golf design.”

Built almost a century later on the grounds of a Revolutionary War encampment, the Militia Hill Golf Course done by Dr. Michael Hurzdan and Dana Fry in 2002 represents a cutting-edge design approach. Both courses, as well as the St. Martin’s course, have hosted numerous championships.

When you take a look into Duncan Pearson’s life, it is not surprising that he makes his living as an aerial photographer. It is in his blood.

Pearson’s maternal grandfather, Jim Riddle, co-founded Narco Avionics (now in Fort Washington) in 1945. Though Riddle died before Pearson was born, as a child he enjoyed his mother’s stories of his grandfather. She often accompanied her father as he flew from airport to airport, selling his radio directional finders and other products he designed.

Just after his mother, Virginia, and father, Eric, were married, Virginia earned her pilot’s license. Though she never took Duncan out flying, he always knew he would someday learn to fly. It wasn’t until Duncan graduated from Trinity College in 2001 that he did, courtesy of his parents who gave him the perfect graduation gift: flight lessons. His younger brother Eric was getting his pilot’s license at the same time.

The summer after college, Duncan trained at Northeast Airport, and, along with his brother, spent as much time in the air as he could. On his first solo flight, Eric brought a disposable camera and took aerial shots of the brothers’ alma mater, Chestnut Hill Academy. When Eric later framed these photos as a gift for his parents, a seed was planted for Duncan.

After working at the Hill School in Pottstown, Duncan took a job in commercial real estate with the Flynn Company in Philadelphia. He experienced great success as a salesperson but was particularly drawn to the brochures the company used to market its larger commercial properties.

“Pictures are a great way to convey the value of a property,” Pearson said. They are also used to monitor construction progress and secure additional funding for projects.

As he continued to sell real estate, Pearson wanted to see if he could do the aerial photography.

“Let’s just say it was harder than I thought,” he laughed as he told the story of his first trip out when took all his shots through the Plexiglas window. Not one came out. Now he always opens a window before he shoots.

What began as a side business for real estate firms and custom home builders has turned into a full-time profession. The Cricket Club is the first of what he hopes will be numerous aerial photography books.

In producing the “Philadelphia Cricket Club” book, Pearson chartered a Cessna (he needed a high wing plane) for two days and took five to seven shots of each hole and multiple pictures of the entire course. Hoping to produce a shallow angle, the aerial photographer often took photos as the plane was to the side of the hole and he was looking backwards.

Once on the ground, Pearson reviews the shots and selects those which best present the holes at a low angle. His photographs generally place the tee box in the foreground, with the fairway and the green squared up as much as possible. Pearson admits that dogleg holes are a bit more challenging.

Though a Philadelphia Cricket Club member and avid squash player, Pearson only plays golf occasionally. His home backs up to the ninth hole,  of the club’s St. Martin’s course, and he has always appreciated its beauty.

Rather than swinging clubs on the ground, Pearson will be snapping photos from the air. The lifelong Chestnut Hill resident plans to produce aerial photography books on golf courses throughout the Philadelphia area and eventually up and down the East Coast.

His second book, “Sunnybrook Golf Club,” will be released this week. Similar to his first, this color hardcover also includes comments and playing suggestions from the club’s golf professional on each hole. Lists of club champions and a brief course history are included as well.

Pearson plans to model the approach he has used with the “Philadelphia Cricket Club,” published by Blurb and available for sale at the club’s pro shop or online at www.blurb.com for $119. His other work, which includes aerial shots of Chestnut Hill, Center City, the University of Pennsylvania, the Chestnut Hill Garden Festival, and even the grand opening of Wegmans Food Markets in Malvern, is available for viewing or purchase at www.smugmug.com

To say that “the sky’s the limit” doesn’t really work for Pearson. With his camera in hand, the self-taught photographer and aviator truly has no boundaries.

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