Avid fans of golf legends such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan can easily find photos of these magnificent players on various courses throughout their careers.
Most often, the photos are action shots taken by sports photographers during a golf tournament’s peak moments.
But very rarely do fans come across classic, black-and-white images of these golfers early in their career that fully capture their magnetic personalities.
Even more unique are photographs dating back to the 1950s and 1960s of these golf legends posing on the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club.
About nine years ago, local businessman Shane Thompson was presented with an incredible opportunity that he simply couldn’t pass up.
“A gentlemen approached me and asked if I was interested in purchasing about 350 images. It was one of those things, you don’t quite know what’s there,” Thompson said, explaining with that large of a photo collection, he could only take a peek at a handful of the negatives. “But once I saw one or two of them, I said, ‘This is definitely worth getting.’ I saw some pictures of Arnold Palmer from the 1950s and ‘60s that I have never seen before. They are just not out there.”
These images were originally taken by the late photographer Hugh Cross and most of them are captured on the grounds of the Augusta National, Thompson said.
“There are at least 40-plus pictures of Arnold Palmer that you just don’t see anywhere,” Thompson said. “I’ve got a photo of Arnold Palmer when he was 26, about two years after he exited the Coast Guard in the 1950s. He wouldn’t win the Masters for another two more years. So this photo is of Arnold Palmer posing in Augusta on the practice grounds of the National. That’s pretty crazy.”
It’s also a special photo because Arnold Palmer accepted a much larger, canvas version of the same photo on his 80th birthday.
Thompson, who owns the rights to all of the 350 photos, has spent hundreds of hours retouching some of the images, which can be viewed and purchased on his website, augustagolfphotos.com.
Just last week, Thompson also began selling individual prints on Amazon for prices ranging from $25 to $35.
“We put a lot of effort into making sure they are excellent photos,” he said. “I’d say that I’ve spent between two and five hours on each photograph. So all of the photographs that are available online are restored. I tried to do the photos that I thought people would enjoy the most, first.”
For example, Thompson has an extremely rare photo of a very young Gary Player at the Augusta National.
“This one, I didn’t even recognize until later on. But this is Gary Player before he even won his first Masters,” Thompson said, pointing to the photo. “I’ve had these photos for nine years and I didn’t recognize that was Gary Player until last year. I also have a photo of a very young Jack Nicklaus teeing up to drive that was taken on the grounds of the National.”
There is also a classic 1959 photograph of Arnold Palmer leaning on his golf club glancing off in the distance with a cigarette in hand at the Augusta National in Thompson’s collection.
“He is just standing out there smoking,” Thompson said, chuckling. “I also have the triptych of Arnold Palmer swinging that is really cool. In fact, we had someone who bought like 20 of those sets this past Masters. It was wild, so the audience for this is unique, yet dedicated.”
CLASSIC IMAGES AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL
After going through the entire photo collection, Thompson also discovered that he had photos of the Augusta National’s clubhouse, the Masters Silver Trophy and even photos of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Augusta.
“Here is one of Dwight Eisenhower coming off of Air Force One at Daniel Field Airport,” Thompson said, pointing to the 1954 photo of the former president and his wife, Mamie Eisenhower. “And I also have a collective shot of people meeting with Dwight Eisenhower and the president is shaking the hand of golfer Billy Joe Patton.”
Also featured in the group photo is the first head golf professional of the National, Ed Dudley, a member of the Augusta National board of governors, Bill Zimmerman, and the co-founder of the Augusta National Golf Club, Clifford Roberts.
“These shots are very archival for the National,” Thompson said, adding that he also has an extremely rare color photograph of the Augusta National Clubhouse featuring the Founders Circle in the early 1960s. “You and I might look at this photo and say, ‘This is just a standard photo of the clubhouse.’ But if you look closely, the Augusta National’s logo is made up of all multi-colored flowers. It’s not yellow.”
Most of the photos of the National’s clubhouse have the yellow pansies forming the Augusta National’s logo, but this photo was taken before that change. The photo also still features the Cork Tree, which was removed when the Founders Circle was later remodeled.
“I haven’t seen any color photos on the web of the flowers prior to it being changed to all yellow,” Thompson said. “It was also prior to having the second flag up there on the pole, so it was taken in the early 1960s. I’m not sure if the
National didn’t want any photos of the multi-colored garden logo out there or why it’s not out there. But I have done a pretty exhaustive search, and it’s the only one that we know of, of that kind. So it’s awesome to be able to give people a chance to have that piece of history.”
For Thompson, it’s not about selling the prints to make a bunch of money because he knows he could charge more than $25 to $35 for these images.
“I wanted to reasonably price them,” Thompson said, sitting in his office at Windsor Fine Jewelers on Washington Road, located right across the street from the gates of the Augusta National. “I think it’s cool for people to have the opportunity to get something like this in Augusta. In most cases, there is no opportunity to purchase prints like this. I priced them so people can have it and own it.”
After all, these posed images of golf legends taken in Augusta are extremely rare, Thompson said.
“A lot of the photos out there are very action-oriented with golfers walking on the course and not looking at the camera,” Thompson said. “These were posed and the photographer focused on the composition of it all. And the fact that most of these images are in Augusta is special. You try to find ones that were done at the National like this and there really aren’t many at all, especially available to the public. The National has quite a sizable archive, but it is locked away.”
One of his biggest joys in making these images available to the public is the look on people’s faces who are longtime golf fans, Thompson said.
“A couple of years ago, we were selling these prints outside the (jewelry) store and it was remarkable the people who didn’t recognize these golfers. There were a lot of young folks who didn’t know who they were. That was a little shocking,” Thompson said. “But there is a collective group of older golf enthusiasts who just melt when they see these photos. That’s been fun for me, to see somebody light up who has been such a seasoned veteran of the game.”
After all, these are historical photos from the 1950s and ’60s that have never really been seen before, he said.
“A lot of times fans feel like they’ve seen everything there is to offer regarding these players,” Thompson said. “They know all about their careers and their wins, so when you show them these images and say, ‘Here is something you haven’t seen, that is pretty spectacular.’ A shock comes over their face like, ‘That’s incredible.’”
REACHING THE PUBLIC WITH THESE PRINTS
Ever since this past April, Thompson has been working to get these photos available to purchase on Amazon.
“It was a long process in getting them up and getting them printed,” Thompson said. “But last week, we sent them out and they were selling the first day. There are a lot of people who come to the National every year, so there is a big audience for these photos. We just needed them to be seen.”
Thompson actually got some help and guidance about getting his prints on Amazon from Augusta on Ice co-founder Chris Boerner, who also owns another business called Cielo Pill Holders.
“My business, Cielo Pill Holders, came to be about five years ago,” Boerner said. “I used to work for Starbucks corporate. I did global strategy and branding work there and I was looking for a way to take a little bit more control of my own time, but also connect with customers a little more directly, and so that led to Cielo.”
When she was in high school, Boerner was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune disease, which requires her to take a variety of pills on a regular basis.
“And what I found was that most of pill holders out in the market are just junky, imported products from China,” Boerner said, adding that her experience inspired her to produce well-designed, quality pill holders for the public. “So, I worked with a manufacturer in Washington state, which is where I’m from, and everything was made in the U.S. and I launched my own website in 2013.”
But it didn’t take long for Boerner to realize that she needed a better way to reach her target audience.
“Initially, I had this naive idea that people would just come to me and they would know that I’m out there,” she said. “Pretty early on, I realized that meeting customers where they were already looking for products made a lot more sense than trying to get people to come to your website that wasn’t part of their routine at all. So, about a month after I started Cielo, I started looking into how to sell on Amazon.”
She worked her way through the process and soon began selling on Amazon.
By 2014, Amazon introduced a program called Amazon Exclusives, which provides extra benefits for small businesses in exchange for agreement not to sell items on any other third-party retail platform.
“Amazon was really interested in how they could help small businesses grow and give them support in ways that they might not have,” Boerner said. “I was really, really fortunate to be taken into that group. I was one of the first brands on the Amazon Exclusives program. It was crazy because all of sudden it was Amazon interested in Cielo and how they could help me grow my business. It was nuts. That started in 2014, so that was a big turning point for my business.”
Today, Boerner has experienced extremely positive results selling her products on Amazon.
“I sell tens of thousands of pill holders every year,” she said. “About 80 percent of my sales are through Amazon and maybe 20 percent on my website.”
When Boerner heard that Thompson was looking to begin selling his photos on the internet, she immediately suggested he contact Amazon.
“Shane was looking to find out, ‘How do I get these pictures in the hands of lots of people?’ And I said, ‘Amazon is absolutely the place to be,’” Boerner said. “I happen to have pretty solid relationships with some of the people at Amazon, so I was fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and connect him with someone who could actually make it happen for him.”
“It’s a tedious process, but people shop on Amazon because it is easy and they do it pretty regularly,” he said. “So, when I talked to Amazon and they said, ‘We’ve got 300 million users that we connect with that have the same interests — that love for the Augusta National or love the Masters,’ it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Thompson insists he’s not looking to open a separate shop to sale the golf photos. Instead, he just wants golf fans to have access to these prints and be able to display them in their homes or offices.
“In fact, I have two of the photos in my house right now,” Thompson said. “I have one of Sam Snead, and I also have an Arnold Palmer in the house.”
Golf fans all over the world, but especially in the Augusta area, will truly fall in love with this collection of photos, Thompson said.
“I have this one photo of Gary Player in 1961,” Thompson said, adding that this photo is one of only two images that he purchased the rights to that weren’t taken by photographer Hugh Cross. “I bought the rights to that negative because Gary Player is wearing an Augusta Country Club hat at the Masters.”
Thompson couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
“That’s pretty bold,” he said, chuckling. “So I said, ‘Man, that is crazy. I have got to have that one, too.’ These are special photos that are piece of history. I just want people to see them and enjoy them.”