Spotlight on Painter Gary Nichols

Local watercolor painter Gary Nichols commemorates the art of a hole in one.

Gary Nichols
Photo by Jon Rose.

For Gary Nichols, the vibrant greens and shadowy contours of golf courses are perfect fodder for his abstract watercolor paintings. A seasoned artist and an avid golfer, Nichols blends these passions to create more than just scenic depictions; he captures milestones. “Golf courses are complex landscapes that I love to paint, but the real thrill comes from immortalizing someone’s perfect shot, their hole in one,” Nichols says. The artist found a niche specializing in creating personalized commemorations for golfers, transforming the hole where they achieved their ace into a lasting memory. “It’s about elevating that moment of triumph with color, light, and emotion,” he says. Intrigued, “I’ve been a golfer since I was a kid, and I love to play—particularly on scenic courses. Those are the best ones to paint, too.”

“I put my own interpretation on the colors of the courses. I try to make the entire scene look better than it does in real life.”

“Most golf artists who I know of try to be as realistic as possible, but that’s not me. I want my paintings to have more of an impressionistic feel, though the details—like the shapes of the sand traps and the green—must be accurate. If there’s a big evergreen tree, you have to see that. But I don’t get into a huge amount of detail, which is typical of the watercolor medium.”

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“I don’t do plein air paintings. Most golf courses frown upon somebody setting up their easel and their paints in the middle of the fairway.”

“I paint from reference photos, preferably ones I shoot myself in the morning or late afternoon when the shadows are the longest—the golden hours. You get nice shadows on the undulations of the greens and on the fairways and sand traps.”

“I first started painting golf courses in the mid- 90s. At the time, I had my own graphic design business, and I was doing some work for a highend course in the St. Louis area. The GM knew I was an artist as well, and he asked me to do some paintings of the course for the clubhouse and proshop. So I went out and took photos of a few holes and started painting—and I rather enjoyed it. Essentially, a golf course is just like any landscape—a finely manicured one.”

“Most people when they get a hole in one, they get a little shadow box frame and put the ball and the tee in there, perhaps even the scorecard. Which overall is rather dull. Wouldn’t they rather have a custom painting by that Gary Nichols guy? So I started contacting courses and asking them to put me in touch with any golfers who might be interested in a custom painting to commemorate their hole in one.”

“My goal is for the person who played any given hole (and maybe got an ace on it) to say, ‘Wow! I really did that here.’ And I want anyone who sees the painting to think, I really want to play that hole.” “I love to paint courses with interesting and challenging terrain—any course that’s not flat and boring.”