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The Art of Gratitude

A painter takes his stroke from the canvas to the greens

By Jim Dodson

So why is Dave Baysden smiling?

On the final hole of Rees Jones’ challenging Championship Course at Bryan Park, he’s completed an otherwise sterling round of golf with a bogey on his card.

“Yeah,” he says with a carefree shrug, as he and his playing partners head for a beer in the clubhouse, “that was kind of disappointing, especially after one of my best rounds ever. But how can you not feel happy looking at that?”

He nods toward a fairway tumbling downhill to a slate blue lake glittering in the long light of a golden afternoon, girdled by forests afire with color. “Looks like a painting, doesn’t it,” he muses. “I may have to come back and sketch that.”

Baysden is certainly qualified to do that. A youthful 47, this affable father of two and former engineering artist has taken the golf world at large by storm with soulful paintings of some of the game’s most revered landscapes.

In a fine-art golf world crowded with ultrarealistic renderings of the game’s notable playgrounds, Baysden’s versions of the same tumble with bold movement, swipes of light and color — almost Impressionist in their ability to convey the mood, weather and mythic qualities of his subjects. His work calls to mind the luminous landscapes of 19th-century British Romantic Age painter J.M.W. Turner, works that tug on the emotions as well as the eye.

“I’m not sure I have a particular style,” Baysden allows with characteristic modesty, “because this is all still relatively new to me. What I simply try to capture is what I see and feel when I look at a golf course and other things in the game. People seem to like them.”

Indeed they do.

His distinctive landscapes, illustrations and sketches have turned up lately on everything from the cover of the 2022 President’s Cup program to commercial golf club headcovers. Underscored by a growing portfolio of major client commissions — including leading private and public entities like Pinehurst, The Dormie Club, Ballyhack, Old Town, Secession and the Country Club of Detroit — his distinctive style is popping up almost anywhere golf is enjoyed.

Not long ago he was invited to support the Arnold Palmer Foundation with paintings and design services for the annual Palmer Cup and the restoration of Palmer’s beloved Latrobe Country Club. A collection of 11 of his paintings also recently found their way to Ric Kayne’s spectacular new Te Arai Golf Course in New Zealand. His sketches for the likes of Bandon Dunes and Sweetens Cove, B. Draddy and MacKenzie Golf Bags, meanwhile, speak eloquently about his visionary art’s broad allure to the small-ball world. Landscapes for Royal County Down, Tara Iti and Kauri Cliffs have also recently graced his studio easel in High Point. Last spring, Baysden was commissioned to do a 4’ X 5’ painting of the Cassique Clubhouse for the USGA’s annual Amateur Four-Ball Championship on Kiawah Island. The list goes on and on.

Not bad for a kid nicknamed “Smiley” who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, doodling in class and church because he believed that helped him concentrate. “I was born a natural doodler,” he says with a laugh. “That really bothered my teachers but, crazy as it sounds, doodling actually helped me pay better attention to what was going on in class. It’s the same now when I’m on a golf course — either doing a live sketch of folks at a tournament or just out on a golf course alone, looking and sketching what I see. My eyes and brain work through my hands. The images come through me to the paper that way. It helps me feel the landscape.”

This somewhat late-in-life gift comes naturally, he explains, from his parents — father, Ron, is a gifted career engineer for AT&T-Bellsouth, and his mom, Carolyn, a lifelong artist. Ditto his sister, Cara, also a visual artist. “Dad is a brilliant engineer, very left brain, analytical and scientific, which was the path I naturally assumed I should follow. But my mother and her father were both landscape painters, so that probably explains why the urge to visually create — to doodle at least — seized my brain early,” he speculates.

After taking a degree in biology at the University of South Carolina, Baysden entered grad school at UNC-Charlotte to earn a master’s degree in geography, which landed him in the planning and development department of a top engineering firm producing detailed maps for major highway projects. “I learned a lot in that job about how creativity could benefit an engineering environment. I drew landscapes from aerial photography that helped the engineers better envision what they were building. I loved the job. That’s why I stayed in it for 18 years.”

Providentially, however, two factors unexpectedly led him into the world of golf. When his company announced a merger with another firm, he was basically left alone in a 6,000-square-foot space with a decreasing workload. “I knew my job was probably destined to be eliminated, so I set up an easel in an empty office and began to go over there to sketch and paint when things got slow. It felt so good, like something calling me back.” His early works were pastoral scenes of barns, fields and nature.  Just for fun, he began putting them on Twitter (now X).

A pivotal moment occurred when, seemingly out of the blue, the pastor of his church in Charlotte invited him to participate in a special project that involved several established artists painting scenes on a wall for the church’s Easter observance. 

“These were top artists, mind you, some really talented folks, and I couldn’t believe he would ask me,” Baysden recalls. “I’d never painted anything that large and so public in my life. The fear of failure was pretty real. But terrifying as that was, I realized something had to get out.”

He credits the minister at Forest Hills Church, Steve Whitby, for providing the push he needed. “He told me just not to say no. To be guided by faith. So, I gave it a shot.”

Right: Swilcan Bridge, Old Course St. Andrews


Baysden’s painting of a man struggling to get free of the vines that enwrapped him — simply titled Transgression — struck a powerful chord among those who saw it as a living metaphor for the human yearning for faith and freedom, a perfect Easter message of rebirth that was happening to the artist himself.

“The response from people — and the other artists — took me by surprise. To tell the truth, I had no idea if it was good or not. But they seemed to really see something in my work. It got me thinking, eager to try more.”

As Baysden likes to say, that’s how art found him again. How golf found his art almost seems divinely orchestrated.

One of those who saw his pastoral sketches online was Graylyn Loomis, one of golf’s leading influencers, an Asheville native who helped take his high school golf team to the state championship in 2010 and spent four years attending the University of St Andrews, clocking more than 180 rounds on the Old Course between classes. Loomis’ passion for links architecture and love of the auld game led him to create a popular golf blog and travel newsletter read by thousands of classic golf nuts.

“I loved what I saw Dave doing online and got in touch because of his spectacular illustration of speckled trout,” Loomis says. “His subjects were almost breathtakingly beautiful. They had such a natural feel, I just had to know who this guy was and where he came from.”

“I remember Loomis asked me — Who are you?” Baysden recalls with a laugh. “We had a great conversation that changed my life.”

Loomis felt Baysden’s luminous art leant itself perfectly to a painting a golf course, and wondered if Baysden would be up for an interview for his blog and consider doing a couple of watercolor paintings of St Andrews and Cypress Point.

“I was floored. I grew up playing golf with my dad and friends but had never painted a golf course before,” says Baysden. “It was kind of scary to think I could possibly paint from photographs. But he also said he saw something unique in my work, so I was willing to try.”

“I simply told Dave that his work was so different a wider audience needed to see it,” Loomis remembers. “I even offered to pay him, but he said he wouldn’t take any money. That’s how humble Dave is. I told him those days would probably be ending soon.”

Today, both paintings hang in Loomis’ home. “His paintings capture the soul of golf. When you look at his work, whatever the subject, you feel like you are really there with him. That sets him apart, in my view.”

Encouraged by the strong response on Loomis’ website, Baysden began posting a daily cartoon of whatever was happening in golf on Twitter, which landed him a gig as roving cartoonist at the PGA Tour Championship.

“It was an amazing experience. They told me to draw whatever caught my attention. I honestly didn’t even know what to charge them. That’s how inexperienced I was. But it was a blast — the first time I’d ever sketched and walked a golf course at the same time.”

His signed originals of the four “scenes” he produced during the championship’s first two days were presented to the top finishers.

Left: Augusta National, Hole 12

Right: ArborLinks, 5th Hole


For the PGA Merchandise Show that following winter, Baysden was commissioned to paint a 5’ X 8’  backdrop of the second hole at Old McDonald at Bandon Dunes, which hung in the firm’s booth along with his painted headcovers. “I did the work in our garden shed,” he remembers with a laugh, “because that became my studio at home, where I could disappear and sketch and paint for hours without worrying about the mess.”

That same year, 2018, Tour star Zack Blair invited Baysden to come play and paint at his inaugural two-day event called “The Ringer” at Sweetens Cove. “Dave was really perfect for our event. He did a couple paintings that we auctioned off and everyone loved his work,” explains Blair.

“That’s really where I fell in love with playing the game again,” says Baysden. “I’d never walked a golf course until Sweetens Cove. I saw the game in a new light, one where friends share their love of the game and true fellowship. It was a true eye-opening experience.”

Not surprisingly, Blair became an enthusiastic friend and patron. “Dave’s art is extraordinary. I have an entire gallery wall of his work at home [in Utah] — not just golf art but also his river scenes, barns and lots of other non-golf subjects. My mother has several of his paintings, too,” says Blair, pointing out that Baysden has been the artist-in-residence at every “Ringer” since the Dormie Club, Streamsong and Sand Valley.

Back home in his studio in High Point — a spare bedroom with north-facing windows, his largest  workspace ever — “Smiley the Doodler” finds himself hard at work on a stream of new projects, including work for the approaching 2024 US Open at Pinehurst.

Yet, true to his nature, he takes time to count his blessings.

Maybe most important of all, he explains, as the reach of his artistic gifts continue to expand across Planet Golf, his friendships through the game have deepened and grown in especially meaningful ways. Perhaps his most notable role has been in the creation of a group of spiritually-minded golfers who started the “Restoration Club,” a faith-based band of brothers who enjoy the fellowship of the game and a community that encourages them to walk with Jesus and be better husbands, brothers, dads and friends.

“I’m still blown away by the generosity of the golf world, so grateful how this all happened,” he muses. “My wife, Mandy, encouraged me at every step of the way and the golf world had been incredible. It’s a long game, as they say, and I’m still learning. But that’s the beauty of golf — and, for that matter, living in this world. There’s always something new that catches my attention. I see it,” he adds, still smiling, “and I want to paint it.”  OH