Bob Gillespie



Saturday at The Ocean Course: Baxter’s take on 18th hole is PGA 2012’s official painting

Posted 8/11/2012 10:17:00 PM

Graeme Baxter says he’s loved golf since, as “a wee kid,” his father first took him to play the game. But always, he loved painting even more.

For more than a quarter-century, the 53-year-old native of Sterling, Scotland has combined his two lifelong passions by capturing some of the world’s greatest golf holes on canvas. And for all but two years since 2000, when he reproduced the famous Swilcan Burn Bridge at St. Andrews, he has annually done the official painting of The Open Championship – the British Open to Americans.

This week at Kiawah Island, Baxter is greeting golf fans at his corner of the PGA Golf Shop, a 40,000-square-foot mega-merchandise tent, where he is selling prints and other reproductions of the official painting of the 2012 PGA Championship: a stunning rendering of The Ocean Course’s par-4 18th hole. It’s the first of what he hopes will be an annual project – just the latest in a career built around classic golf holes.

“I’ve been painting for 26 years, and painting golf for 25 ½,” says Baxter, who also has produced paintings and prints of The Ocean Course’s par-4 ninth hole and its most famous, the daunting par-3 17th.

Born in a castle that had been converted to a nursing home after World War II, the young Baxter was exposed to golf and art early. “When I was young, my sister was teaching at St. Leonard’s Girls School in St. Andrews, and in 1986 I did my first painting of the Old Course,” he says.

“My father took my painting to Sir Michael Bonnallack,” secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, who told the elder Baxter, “I love this. This is the best golf landscape I’ve ever seen.” In 1987, Baxter began selling prints of his work, and in 1988 he did his first Open painting at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

It wasn’t until 2000, though, that Baxter became the Open’s official artist, signing a six-year contract through International Management Group (IMG). When he made his breakthrough, he did so with a bang.

His original painting of St. Andrew’s famed bridge, measuring eight feet by 11 feet and taking six months to finish, was unveiled in May 2000 by England’s Prince Andrew. Later, it sold at auction for the equivalent of $475,000.

“It’s a great honor to be with the Royal & Ancient, whom I consider to be the custodians of the game,” Baxter says. “I believe my art is a recording of golf history.”

He’s not the only golf artist with (now) a South Carolina connection. Linda Hartough, a Hilton Head resident at one time, has been the U.S. Open’s official artist since about the time Baxter started his career in 1987-88. Their styles differ, he said; Hartough sketches her works and then paints them in, while Baxter paints freehand.

Over the years, he’s produced nine Open images for the R&A. Since 1991, he has been the official artist for the Ryder Cup in Europe, and will continue to be so through 2014. He’s also done official paintings for the Presidents Cup and Solheim Cup.

On Saturday, Baxter was busy chatting with customers and signing certificates of authenticity. One of them, Jan King of Bluffton, purchased a $150 limited edition, numbered print (18 inches by 22 inches) for a friend and another for herself. Also available are signed prints (12 by 14) for $55 and, for the committed golf art fan, giclees (20 by 30 prints on high-quality stock) for $1,200.

Baxter – who has created a logo featuring a stylized rendition of the Swilcan Burn Bridge over his signature – is a member of the New Course at St. Andrews as well as Royal Perth, also in Scotland. He takes delight in telling you Royal Perth is “one month older than the R&A, though they don’t like to admit that.”

These days, his golf handicap is 5.9 – not bad, he says, but not as good as it could be if he spent more time playing and less time painting. But then, his biggest passion comes first.

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