By JOHN REITMAN
Editor of Turfnet
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF. – The ability to put brush to canvas has helped open doors for Josh Smith. It also has helped him focus on a unique career opportunity.
Smith, 31, has been painting for six short years, yet he has been commissioned to recreate some of the country’s finest golf courses, including Pebble Beach, San Francisco Golf Club and Sand Hills Golf Club. Reprints of his paintings of all three courses at Bandon Dunes are for sale in the golf shop there, and his oil-on-canvas rendering of Stock Farm Club was commissioned as a birthday present for club founder Charles Schwab.
Clearly, Smith’s artistic ability represents more than a passing hobby.
That skill last year helped sell members at California Golf Club on portions of an overall $10 million renovation of the 1918 A. Vernon Macan design that is scheduled to be finished by mid-2008. Much of the project centers around trying to reinject some of the characteristics brought to the course by Alister MacKenzie, who redesigned the property in 1927.
Architect Kyle Phillips and Thomas Bastis, CGCS, approached membership last year about rerouting much of the front nine. Part of the renovation included clearing 14 acres of wooded area, but many members had a difficult time picturing the plan. A renovation was one thing; completely rerouting part of the front nine and essentially changing how the course plays was another.
“Members couldn’t justify the changes to No. 7 if they couldn’t envision it,” Bastis said.
In June 2006, the pair approached Smith, who already had developed a reputation in Northern California as a budding golf -course artist, about painting their vision of what they wanted No. 7 to be. Months earlier, Smith had been laid off after 5 1/2 years as an assistant and later head project superintendent for Wadsworth Golf Construction, so availability was not a problem. Coincidentally, Smith also had been interviewing with Bastis for the position of second superintendent and accepted a job offer the same day Phillips called him to paint No. 7.
“It was amazing that all happened on the same day,” said Smith, who grew up on a perennial ryegrass farm near Portland, Ore.
Although Smith’s availability was not an issue, time was.
“I had a week-and-a-half to do that. It wasn’t my best work,” he said. “But it was exciting painting something you couldn’t see yet.”
Smith painted Phillips’ vision – and his own – and soon the project was back on track.
“Once they saw that painting, the members were like, ‘OK, now I get it,’ ” Bastis said.
As Smith recalls, the vote to approve the plan based on his painting was 65 percent “for” to 35 percent “against.” Today the painting hangs in the clubhouse between two trophies, the 2006 AT&T National Pro-Am won by Arron Oberholser (who grew up on Cal Club) and the 1964 U.S. Open won by club member Ken Venturi.
As a child, Smith developed an appreciation for art from his mother, a first grade teacher with an artistic flair of her own. He had a penchant for drawing, but it wasn’t until a few days before his 25th birthday that he first picked up a brush. His first painting was “a cowboy and Indian scene.” That was six years ago. Today, Smith paints golf courses exclusively and hopes to parlay his love of art and the game into a hybrid career.
“A friend told me that whatever you want to do with your life, you have to have a plan by the time you’re 25,” Smith said.
After being laid off by Wadsworth, Smith’s plan included sending e-mails to contacts he’d made in golf and asking for help. He attached images of some of his paintings, hoping for the best. Almost immediately, architect Tom Doak, with whom Smith had worked on a renovation of San Francisco Golf Club, replied. Doak was so taken with Smith’s ability he vowed not only to do what he could to help him, but also offered to buy a painting.
“When I first met Josh he was just a young man who wanted to work in golf course construction,” Doak said. “When he said he had done some paintings, I didn’t have very high expectations, and I was very surprised to see his work.”
Today, Smith’s painting of No. 9 at Pacific Dunes hangs in Doak’s office above his drafting table. For Doak, helping Smith is all about giving back.
“When I was 19-20 years old, I wrote letters to a lot of the best clubs in America asking if I could come study their course, and I was overwhelmed by the positive responses I had from places like Merion, Seminole, and San Francisco Golf Club that are generally known for their exclusivity,” Doak said. “I’ve always tried to pay that back by helping young people where I could. We let Josh work on a couple of our consulting projects where I knew he might find a member who was interested in his work.”
Smith has since been contacted by members and managers to capture some of the country’s top golf courses on canvas. One of his originals of Pebble Beach fetched $4,500 and he has made thousands in reprint sales there.
Although Smith has no formal agronomic training – he is considering attending Rutgers University – his artistic ability has made him a valuable asset to Cal Club’s agronomy department. A collegiate golfer from his days at St. Mary’s College of California, Smith looks at a course through the eyes of a player and artist, a nice contrast to Bastis’ approach as an agronomist.
“He’s been a great fit,” Bastis said. “He definitely has that left-brain thing going and I’m right brain. Together, we’re swinging for the fences.”
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John Reitman is the editor of Turfnet. To reach him email firstname.lastname@example.org.