From Bobby Jones to Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods, Leonard Kamsler photographed just about every great golfer over a career that spanned six decades. He was a fixture behind the lens at Augusta National, working 40 consecutive Masters from 1963 until 2002. He also worked 22 U.S. Opens and 17 PGA Championships.
But Kamsler also took portraits, snapped candid moments, captured images for equipment and travel stories and developed specialized tools for taking high-speed images in an era when magazines relied on slide film, and you never knew what you had until it was developed in a dark room.
Kamsler died on November 17 at age 85 at his home in Swan Lake, New York.
Known in the golf world as the “Dean of Golf Photographers,” Kamsler started his career at Golf Magazine in 1959, but he never played a round of golf in his life. Still, Kamsler was so universally admired and respected that he was the recipient of the PGA of America’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism. Having retired in 2019, Kamsler was scheduled to receive the award at TPC Harding Park during the PGA Championship in May, but after the tournament was moved to August, Kamsler was unable not attend. Photographers Dom Furore, Steven Szurlej and Fred Vuich brought the award to his home.
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Kamsler attended Duke and considered a career in magic, but having been given a movie camera at age 12 by his father, Kamsler also loved to create images.
While sequences that show several images of a golfer swinging and hitting a shot are commonplace in magazines and on websites today, Kamsler is the person who invented the genre. After buying a Hulcher camera in the mid-1970, a large camera originally designed to study rocket launches in slow motion, Kamsler modified his to shoot at over 100 images per second. The camera sounded like a machine gun being fired, and the cartridges of film often zipped through the mechanisms so quickly that they broke, but for the first time the fluidity and power of a player’s swing could be seen in detail on film.
Kamsler also helped to develop stroboscopic techniques that allowed his camera to capture multiple images of a subject in one photograph. Swinging clubs, bouncing golf balls and wedges working through sand became arresting works of art.
The video below, produced by the PGA of America, will give you an idea of the importance of Kamsler’s contributions to golf journalism.