Hartough is considered by many to be the world’s foremost golf landscape artist. She is also the official artist for the United States Golf Association and a winner of a lifetime achievement award from Golf Digest magazine. To put her status in true perspective, when Augusta National wants one of its holes captured on canvas, it calls Hartough.
The famed Georgia track was, however, far from Hartough’s thoughts in recent weeks.
She has just returned from a three-week tour of Ireland, her first visit to the island where golf has become as much a part of the economy as it is part of the landscape or a cornerstone of Irish sporting life. And while the wet summer in Ireland frustrated the plans of countless gold addicts, Hartough was delighted with all the rain.
“Because of the wet summer the courses looked the way that they should look. The rough was lush and full of wild flowers. It was much better for my purposes than it would have been in a dry summer,” Hartough said recently.
Ireland now boasts over 400 golf courses. Some of them are humble and forgiving, some are virtually unequalled in the world for scenery, condition and difficulty. Given her business, Hartough naturally seeks out courses in the latter category.
On this trip, she chose eight. And from that number she will probably paint a single hole from just one of them, maybe two.
“I heard so much about Ireland from my customers and clients. They kept telling me how much they wanted me to do Irish courses,” she said.
The eight courses that Hartough visited this time around were Ballybunion, Lahinch, Doonbeg (where the U.S. vs. Ireland and Britain Arnold Palmer Trophy competition was played this year), Tralee, Waterville, Old Head of Kinsale, Royal County Down and Portmarnock.
Hartough, is a non-golfer who, paradoxically, is an expert on courses.
And when she walks them, hers is as much a professional presence as Tiger Woods or Padraig Harrington.
“I’m an avid watcher but I don’t have the time to play the courses,” she said. “I’d rather paint them.”
As she walks, she forms impressions and opinions. And she has brought opinions on all of her chosen eight back to her home and place of work in Hilton Head, S.C.
Ask her about Waterville for example and she will reply, “beautiful.”
The Old Head course in Co. Cork is “an adrenalin rush.”
Doonbeg is “very long.”
And it is too. The County Clare course is a links in the classic form where you chart a more or less straight course — even if your ball doesn’t — through the dunes for two to three miles to reach the ninth hole, and then you hike all the way back to the clubhouse.
All eight courses captured Hartough’s imagination and, indeed, her heart, to one degree or another.
Ballybunion, however, is the course that will likely first find its way to Hartough’s easel in the coming months.
“That was the course that I definitely wanted to get enough material from,” she said.
“Material” for Hartough comes in two forms: memories and impression in her mind’s eye, and photographs, hundreds of them.
A day on the course for Linda Hartough requires some advance preparation, just as it would a serious player of the game. Her version of a practice round involves talking to people about the course, asking them about each hole and which they think is the hardest, most impressive or memorable. She will then walk the course with a guide. Later, she will return on her own, cameras in hand.
“I go back early in the morning when the light is at its most dramatic,” she said.
She also studies a course in late afternoon. As she does so, she uses up roll after roll of film.
Hartough is precise when it comes to photos. She used 43 rolls of film during her Irish visit. Each roll had 36 exposures.
“I use two top-of-the-line Minolta cameras, though not quite what a professional photographer might use,” she said. “That can be a bit heavy. I shoot each section of the scene and build up the complete picture.”
Hartough pays particular attention to how shadow plays on a hole. In this regard she was especially captivated by Ballybunion and Royal County Down and took the bulk of her photos on these two courses.
She said she would pay closer attention to the other six on her next Irish trip.
Back in Hilton Head, Hartough spends long hours spreading out photos, studying them and deciding how she will depict a photographic scene in oil, her favored artistic medium. The process, she explained, was how to end up with a truly great painting, not just an accurate portrayal of the hole.
Hartough expects to begin work on the 11th hole in Ballybunion sometime in the new year. She will take about two months to complete the work.
Hartough paints about four holes a year. Depending on size, her work sells in a range starting at $50,000 and right up to $200,000.
For the wider market, her works are available in print at prices that are somewhat lower than a top 10 check in a PGA tournament.
Hartough’s very own golf tour began, appropriately enough, 18 years ago.
“I did my first golf painting in 1984. It was for Augusta National. They had seen some of my landscapes. I decided to specialize in golf scenes four years after that.”
She has been walking fairways and painting greens ever since.
And now, Ballybunion is about to get the Linda Hartough treatment.
“I knew how great a course it was,” Hartough said. “But actually walking through it and seeing those dunes was a most impressive experience.
“There’s such a sense of history about Irish golf courses. I would absolutely recommend Ireland to any golfer.
“I was of course tempted to play, but I know what that takes. I appreciate the game without playing it.”
But even more by painting it grandest stages.