ONE STROKE AT A TIME ALEX JENKINS TALKS TO LEE WYBRANSKI, ARGUABLY THE MOST IN-DEMAND ARTIST WORKING IN GOLF TODAY.
he Merchandise Tent at this year’s Open Championship at Muirfield was an impressive structure. A vast, airy marquee filled to the brim with branded apparel and assorted other goods, the prices here are – as a general rule – on the high side. Not that that fact sopped the punters. While it’s true that the number of spectators at this particularly scenic part of the East Lothian coast was down on previous Opens, the Brits clearly can’t do without their Ralph Lauren-branded polo shirts and bright yellow mugs depicting the championship logo, such were the queues that formed on the weekend. The most tasteful item on display however was neither an item of clothing nor an Open mug but the official championship poster, a wonderfully vibrant, almost throwback-style watercolour print that gave an aerial snapshot of the links and the coastline beyond. It reminded me of those 1920s vintage British Rail posters that advertised appealing destinations like Gleneagles and Turnberry, and which now sell for a fortune on eBay. But these were neither vintage nor especially pricey. I grabbed half a dozen, paid my money and left. Five are now in the belonging of grateful golfing friends and relatives and the remaining one occupies significant wall space in my tiny Hong Kong study. As “golfing” purchases go, this was the equal to that Callaway Big Bertha Steelhead Plus driver that I bought in the late 1990s – and which I rarely missed fairways with. How times have changed. The work of artist Lee Wybranski, the Open Championship poster was the latest in a long line of artworks that the Arizona-based artist has produced for the world’s biggest events – and golf clubs. “I have a lot of affection for Ridgewood Country Club – they were the first golf tournament client of mine when I produced a poster for the 2001 Senior PGA Championship, which they hosted,” Wybranski recalls. Wybranski, who obtained a degree in art history from Syracuse University, started his career specializing in pen-and-ink drawings of buildings 42
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of architectural note and soon found a niche producing pictures of clubhouses at some of northeast America’s most notable clubs (of which Ridgewood is one). Winged Foot, Caves Valley and the National Golf Links of America were some of his early clients. Wybranski’s big break arrived in 2008 when the USGA hired him to produce the poster for that year’s US Open, which was held at Torrey Pines in California – and which produced that epic finish when Tiger Woods triumphed over Rocco Mediate in a Monday play-off. That particular poster is a beauty. Depicting an ocean-side green framed by a striking Cypress tree, it is clear why the USGA have commissioned him every year since. You’ll never be able to get Wybranski to name a favourite, although he clearly has fond memories of his work on the southern Californian coast. “The landscape there – the colours of the ocean, the trees – made it very special,” he says. All artists needs inspiration and arguably my personal favourite of Wybranski’s collection to date is his poster from this year’s US Open, which was played at Merion, one course that features inspiration at every turn. His artwork here features one of the club’s famous wicker baskets – there are no flags at Merion – set against a backdrop of the East Course’s “Quarry Hole”, the demanding 16th, and all the sandy scrubland that that hole entails. “I always ask the USGA and latterly the R&A (for the Open Championship) what they’re looking for … what are the elements that they want to stand out,” Wybranski says. “I use a camera a 44
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lot,” he admits. “I take images from the course and then draw the composition free-hand using a stylus and tablet, which I then print out on watercolour paper before working at it with a pencil.” When he and his clients are happy with a composition he’ll then begin work applying the watercolour. But there’s a lot more to Wybranski’s work than simply posters. On the back of his success he has secured logo work from a multitude of the world’s most famous clubs and has even produced a superbly illustrated yardage book for the greatest of all – the Old Course at St Andrews. “I really enjoy working with golf – the variety of the subject matter really appeals,” he says. “Golf courses offer landscapes that will never get old.” Just like his posters, you might say. Lee Wybranski’s bestselling posters are highly collectable and are now available individually signed for only HK$600 each, including postage and packing, through HK Golfer. To order please call +852 3590 4153 or write to email@example.com
Wybranski’s first US Open commission came in 2008 and the result was this attractive depiction of Torrey Pines (above left); his artwork from Merion this year (above right) includes the club’s famous wicker basket pin in the foreground of the “Quarry” hole, the par-4 16th HKGOLFER.COM