Life on the 12th Green

G. Mark Bowden’s 21 years shooting the Masters
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AUGUSTA, GA.
Since 1989, freelance cameraman G. Mark Bowden has covered the Masters in Augusta, Ga., starting out in a crane adjacent to the 15th fairway, then moving to the 12th green in 1992 to a camera tower. Every year since then—when not working for ESPN and The Golf Channel—Bowden has been covering the greats of golf for CBS at 'the Golden Bell' hole.

"It is the most nerve-wracking job that I do all year," Bowden tells TV Technology. "The pressure of shooting that hole is magnified by the fact that there's the 60-foot tall grandstand in the shot. I have to find the ball as it takes off with the grandstand in my viewfinder, and then accurately track the ball's trajectory down to the pin.

"My biggest fear every year is that I will somehow miss catching the ball as it rolls into the hole," he confides. "If that happens, I might as well go and drown myself in Rae's Creek, which lies between the 12th fairway and the green."

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Bowden follows Tiger Woods at a recent Masters. GETTING TO THE MASTERS

G. Mark Bowden—"G. Mark" to his friends—didn't intend to be a videographer. In fact, he went to Caltech Fullerton to become a still photographer. But after looking at all the photographers listed in the Yellow Pages, he opted to try video instead.

While at school, Bowden got a $3.50/hour job with KDOC Channel 56 in Anaheim, Calif., shooting sports remotes for his college. "We used a tiny remote truck and a few cameras, and covered about four games a week across all kinds of sports," he said. "It was a great learning experience, and people from larger universities couldn't believe how much we did with so little!"

In 1982, after "pounding their doors down for three years," freelance cameraman G. Mark got a summer vacation job at ABC. "I shot General Hospital and game shows and news," he recalls. "Finally, I got a break to do sports." His skills led him to regular freelance work for ABC, ESPN, ABC, NBC and CBS. Mean-while, although Bowden knew how to shoot all kinds of sports he soon settled on golf as his focus. The reason? "There are more days of golf coverage on TV than anything else," he says. "For a freelancer looking for steady work, this was important."

THE BIG TIME

G. Mark makes no bones about his love of the Masters. "This is my dream job, and CBS is a place where I had always wanted to work," he says. "So when I got a chance to fill in for one of the cameramen in 1989, I jumped at it!"

Bowden's camera skills have kept him working at Augusta every year since then. His steady hand, accurate eye and instinct for predicting the ball's trajectory have secured his spot on the coveted 12th green. But it's a location that comes with heavy responsibilities; even for a cameraman who golfs in his spare time.

"If something goes wrong when I'm shooting, everyone in the industry knows that I'm the guy," he said. "That's why I do my very best to stay focused and never get distracted. I call it the 'worst pucker factor' of any job I know."

In some ways, the working conditions have improved; particularly since the advent of truly fluid tripod heads and of HDTV. "With high definition, I have a much easier time seeing the ball in my viewfinder; especially since we have moved to color," he said. "But there's still the challenge of predicting where the ball is going and tracking the camera accurately. Unfortunately, the image stabilizers inside some of today's modern lenses actually work against me at times, because their re-sponse lags behind the action."

And yes, things do go wrong even for a seasoned pro like G. Mark. "There are times when I assume that the ball is going to go high, and it goes low," he says. "In those cases, you have to adjust the camera fast without looking jerky or confused. Other times, the ball can gain altitude so quickly that you can't initially keep up with it. In the worst cases, you can end up losing the ball entirely. When this happens, I just track the shot as I think it should be to the pin, hoping that the ball will return into view."

TRACKING THE GREATS

Bowden loves golf, and he loves covering the pro circuit. "I have many fond memories of the game and its greats," he says. "I followed Jack Nicklaus in the twilight of his career playing at St. Andrews; I even became a friend of the Nicklaus family. I've covered Tiger Woods many times, beginning on the driving range when Tiger was eight years old. And I've had great fun with Arnold Palmer: If I was walking backwards shooting him as he walked, Arnold would try and walk me into the near-est lake."

"One time I tripped over a golf bag when walking backwards on the LPGA tour, sending my camera flying into the sky," he notes. "Before it smashed into pieces on the ground, it grabbed some images that the production guys really loved!"

LOOKING AHEAD

Even with 21 years of Masters' experience, G. Mark is still enthused about his work. In fact, what he is really looking forward to is shooting the Masters in 3D.

"I have seen [3D] golf footage that was shot at the Sony Open," he said. "It is absolutely spectacular: The ball just seems to come right at you! I definitely want to work with this new technology and I can't think of a better place to use it than the 12th green."

Whether in 3D or HD, G. Mark Bowden will be working the 2010 Masters, April 8-11. He will be as focused as possible, doing his best not to miss any shots onto the legendary 12th green. "This work always makes me nervous, but there is nothing else I'd rather be doing," he said. "This is not only the Masters of golf; it is the Masters of golf camera work."