Seen the pictures? Play the course

Sean Dudley
By David Williams

Three of the most famous golf images in the world originate from my home club, Conwy in north Wales. The three paintings are entitled 'Difficult Bunker', 'The Drive' and 'Putting Green', but as their location is rarely given, few observers know that they depict an existing, thriving golf course, and thus believe they are works of imagination.

Painted in 1893 by artist Douglas Adams, copies of the images can often be found in golf clubhouses across the world, including at venues such as Wentworth and Sunningdale. In his 1992 book Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland, Donald Steel starts his Conwy entry with the words: "Without perhaps knowing it, golfers have seen more of the links of Conwy… than they may think, for the walls of many clubhouses carry old paintings of the course, without, for some reason, identifying the subject." But it is perhaps in the USA where the paintings are held in the most renown. I first became aware of their significance when, during the 1980s, I visited the US with Brian Huggett to view the Tournament Players Courses then being created. One of the courses we visited was the newly-built TPC at Eagle Trace in Florida. Imagine my surprise when entering the vast walnut-clad foyer of the club to see one large painting – 'The Drive' – of my home course! Also knowing its origin, Brian turned to me and said: "David, it looks as if they knew you were coming!" On a later tour, I visited the USGA at Far Hills in New Jersey. The USGA museum and library at Far Hills is generally regarded as the world's leading golf museum, and contains many of the famous implements of golf history, including the club used by Alan Shepherd when he became the first golfer on the moon! But the first images all visitors to the museum see are the three Adams paintings of Conwy, the only exhibits displayed in the lobby. Although given their correct individual titles, there was then no location given. Even the USGA believed they were works of imagination rather than reality. During that visit, I explained the location of the paintings to our host, USGA Green Section national director Jim Snow, who mentioned he had copies of all three above his dining room fireplace! I also wrote to the museum curator, and sent him modern photographs from the same viewpoints as the paintings.

Very little is known of Adams's life. He exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1880-1894, and was generally a landscape and wildfowl painter. One biography described his favourite subjects as 'Scottish panoramas including lochs and coastal views,' leading many to believe the golf paintings were either of a relatively unknown Scottish course, or based on an existing Scottish landscape.

Conwy Golf Club, founded in 1890, is generally regarded to be the second oldest golf club in Wales. The paintings, undertaken only three years after the club's formation, were thus of a relatively new layout, and the only course in north Wales at the time. Modern photographs taken from similar viewpoints show that the foreground has changed as the course has been modified in the intervening 100 years, but the characteristic background is clear.

Starting from the south, the background of 'Difficult Bunker' shows the outline of the hills to the south of the course, part of the northern Carneddau range, the furthest outcrop of Snowdonia.

'The Drive' is the best known of the three, and often the only one exhibited. It is also used on the club's scorecard and membership tags. The location is in the vicinity of the existing second tee and third fairway beyond, and shows the River Conwy in the middle distance and the outline of the Great Orme beyond.

Until the last 20 years, the location of 'Putting Green' could easily be seen to the north of the old clubhouse. But a marina and housing constructed after the building of the A55 Conwy tunnel now occupies the inlet seen in the painting.

However, the background is clear. The Great Orme is to the left of the picture, dominating the emerging resort of Llandudno, while the slightly rising ground occupied by the village of Deganwy can be seen on the right edge of the painting.