Golf & Art
PGA of America pro’s art is one of golf’s best-kept secrets
Former Hazeltine National head professional Chandler Withington took his passion for architecture and design, and applied it to making hand-drawn golf posters. (Photos courtesy of Chandler Withington)
The package arrived sometime in late October, in a long tube of the kind used to ship paintings. Life was busy, so I put it in some forgotten corner, where it sat unopened. When I finally remembered it, after a month, I was sorry it took so long, because inside was a gorgeous print that I knew would hang in my office for a very long time.
In the center was a golden trophy, the Ryder Cup, with details I had never noticed before: lion's heads on the stem, a bird and another lion just below the rim of the cup itself. Surrounding it were the logos of every golf club the matches had ever been played, from Worcester Country Club in 1927 to Le Golf National in 2018, complete with years, scores, and representative flags that showed the evolution of the event from United States vs. Great Britain to U.S. vs. GB & Ireland to U.S. vs. Europe, with a few stops along the way. There were even small notations to explain the two interruptions through 2018—World War II and Sept. 11. All of it was rendered by hand, in colored pencil, adding the human touch that gave the whole thing its ineffable quality, which was the sense that it had been made with painstaking effort, with a categorical attention to detail reminiscent of Gregory Blackstock, by someone who loved this sport with almost child-like enthusiasm.
This was the work of Chandler Withington, and the reason it arrived at my home is that we had spoken for hours in the fall about our shared passion, the Ryder Cup. Withington was the head professional at Hazeltine National and had been in 2016 when the course hosted the match. As a fellow Ryder Cup obsessive, he had a wealth of information to share. He has since left Hazeltine, but when we spoke in November, he emphasized that he was a PGA golf professional first, and an avowed amateur when it comes to art. To date, he hasn't even sold anything for profit, though he could easily do so if that were his goal.
“This is a hobby,” he told me. “It's something I do in the winter. I don't like to watch TV, so I draw. And I started drawing these for one purpose only, so I could put it on my wall and be happy with it.”
Withington grew up in Basking Ridge, N.J., and as a child he was fascinated by architectural blueprints and schematics. He enjoyed the challenge of drawing larger objects to scale. He was the kind of kid who would go to Yankee Stadium and puzzle over why left field was so much further away than right field. The geometry captivated him, and architecture was the only class that interested him in high school. As a self-admitted C/D student, however, Withington never felt like he could pursue his dream of becoming an architect. Instead, he pursued golf, and that second dream bore fruit, as his career took him from courses like Seminole to Merion to Hazeltine.
In 2018, after the birth of his third child, a daughter named Charlotte, Withington's wife Maureen began to experience chest pains. One trip to the ER later, and they found out that she had a pulmonary embolism. Luckily for everyone involved, they discovered it in time to treat it, but that winter, as a precaution, Withington traveled less than usual. The free time, the fact that he had just turned 40, and a book he was reading called Be Obsessed or Be Average motivated him to start drawing again. He started out with a simple project: He wanted to draw a course map of Merion. He used a grid on a tracking board to help him draw it to scale—hole 5 starts in grid C1 and goes up to D2, for instance—and as the project grew in his mind, he thought about including all the trophies from the big tournaments that had been held there, from the U.S. Open to the Walker Cup. What started as a course map became a history.
He sent it to John Sawin, a Merion member and now the Director of Golf at Pebble Beach, who encouraged him to draw something for Pebble Beach. He bought a portable drafting board, compasses, right edges, and other equipment he needed. Early on, he decided he'd draw everything with colored pencil—he didn't know how to paint, and the barriers to figuring it all out seemed too high. He tackled Pebble Beach, and though he found parts of the final product primitive, Sawin liked it enough to give to 12 of his co-workers.
Things moved quickly from there—he collaborated with Tom Coyne, who was working on his book A Course Called America, to make a poster of every course that had hosted the U.S. Open.
Coyne gave the posters to his hosts as he traveled from course to course, and then posted them on social media. Withington started receiving messages from fans asking where they could buy the drawings. But Withington grew up in the shadow of Far Hills, and wasn't about to sell anything without the USGA's consent, an organization he admired.
In the meantime, Withington kept drawing. He's produced similar drawings for the Walker Cup, the Open Championship (with wonderful detail on the claret jug), the Masters, and others.
“People who like it,” Withington told me, “say, ‘it’s not perfect, and we love that.’ It’s hand-drawn, and it’s not meant to be perfect.”
He's resisted the allure of using a light board, which would be akin to tracing (Maureen keeps him honest on this front), and even the lettering is all done by hand.
As I write, the Ryder Cup print is to my left, and every once in a while I like to drift off and let my eyes roam over the various logos. I like them all for different reasons—the conspicuous busyness of some of the English courses like Royal Lytham & St. Annes, logos like family crests, crammed to the gills with details, but also the simple, gorgeous Angel Oak tree of Kiawah Island, or the familiar putter boy of Pinehurst, or the imposing, almost postmodern wings of the Valhalla bird.
Withington's style renders all these little details more immediate, more clarifying, and you can feel the individuality of every place. The overall effect is comprehensive, nostalgic and even a little mysterious, like looking at an old map of the world with the gods of wind blowing at the edge of the seas. Through an accumulation of small moments, he's captured a feeling I can't name, but which contains in it the seeds of an epic story, told by someone who cares an awful lot.