It was supposed to be a quick cup of coffee. Thirty minutes, maybe? But Chandler Withington loves to talk, especially about golf. But also about anything. And it’s infectious. We sat there for 90 minutes.
We chatted golf course architecture. The Ryder Cup. The Lido. Movies. Hockey. Books. (He loves books.) But mostly we talked about how a golf pro at one of the most prestigious clubs in the Midwest left his job and wound up a full-time artist.
It was a gamble, one Withington uses several movie analogies or references to explain. He calls himself a historian and storyteller at heart, so naturally his own tale is an easy one to tell.
“It’s like my love letter to golf,” he says.
WHEN WITHINGTON, WHO IS 45, WAS A KID, his dad would take him to Major League Baseball parks around the country, and he became infatuated with their timeless architecture. Tiger Stadium. Candlestick Park. The SkyDome. No two were alike. But despite his love for architectural engineering, Withington took the route of a golf pro. A PGA member since 2006, Withington was an assistant pro at Merion and Seminole before he was named the head pro at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., in the fall of 2012.
He thought he’d be there until he was 70, but it wasn’t just one thing that led to his professional life taking a turn.
In 2018, his wife, Maureen, had complications after their third daughter was born. Everything turned out to be OK, but the scare made Withington think differently about what’s important. So he spent most of that winter at home instead of traveling or setting up trips for members, but he also needed something to stay busy, especially during those long, cold Minnesota winters.
He decided to draw a course map of Merion, his former club, and in the leftover white space he doodled some trophies and names. He sent it to his buddy John Sawin, a Merion member and director of golf at Pebble Beach. Sawin loved it; he said Withington should create something for them for 2019, because Pebble was hosting the U.S. Open that year.
The wheels kept turning. Withington thought about what he could do next, and how he could turn his new hobby into a discussion topic.
“I kind of had this vision to draw the history of the U.S. Open,” Withington said. “I just wanted to have Wikipedia on my wall. I wanted a quick reference, and again I wanted something to do. So I wondered if I could draw all the logos for the U.S. Open and draw the winners underneath it, and if it’s any good I’ll hang it in my office.”
The U.S. Open drawing — he uses polychromos colored pencils from Faber-Castell — took three months to complete, or, Withington estimates, well over 250 hours. Under all the logos are the years each club hosted, the winner and winning score. Resizing and shifting the logos within the poster’s 24-by-36-inch frame was a tedious process. When it was finished, he reached out to his friend Tom Coyne, a writer who was traveling America playing U.S. Open courses for an upcoming book. Withington asked if he could hand them out to those clubs as a gift. The reception surprised him.
“Dude,” Coyne said, as Withingon recalls it, “people love them.”
It was exciting, but Withington, who didn’t have proper licensing yet, quickly scrambled to clarify his intent to a certain governing body. He reached out to the USGA to tell them he wasn’t selling these for profit, simply giving them away as gifts.
Meanwhile, at work, where Withington spent up to 90 hours a week, the demand was picking up and so was the stress. His kids were getting older, too.
One night, Withington was watching “Back to the Future” with one of his daughters (Movie Reference No. 1), when it had him feeling nostalgic. He started scrolling on his wife’s Instagram feed and noticed he was in few pictures — just Maureen and the girls. He was usually at work.
“And you realize there’s more people that want to spend time with you than just work,” he said.
His last day at Hazeltine was Sept. 19, 2021. At the time, he didn’t quit to focus on his art. The plan was to figure something out. Drawing was still just a diversion, but two months later Golf Digest ran an article on Withington’s new-found hobby. It was well-received and helped get him thinking: Could I actually do this?
In February 2022, Withington presented his wife with a business plan. She’s a good saver, Withington says, so it was her financial chops that allowed him to give this a go before they had to sweat the income. He said it was like in “Field of Dreams” (Movie Reference No. 2), where the wife of Kevin Costner’s character supports him on his crazy adventure, no matter how crazy it might seem.
Withington want back to the USGA to talk licensing, and he also asked about a special drawing he did with the Curtis Cup coming to Merion. It was already finished when the USGA told him he’d need permission from the clubs to use their logos, which, Withington was about to find out, was not easy to acquire. That chase paused in June, and in July he started his next one, which was even more ambitious: get the U.S. Open history drawing approved by all of the clubs, which, essentially, had never been done before.
“And there’s 51 clubs,” he said. “So it was like the great scavenger hunt.”
It was like the “The Wizard of Oz” (Movie Reference No. 3), Withington said, during which the quest to get approvals (i.e., meet the wizard) one hurdle was followed by another. And another.
Luckily, with his time spent in golf, Withington knew lots of pros or general managers. Or pros who knew pros. Or friends who knew pros who knew members who knew pros.
“So I was a 24/7 politician,” he said. “As soon as we get one ‘no’ it’s all gone.”
He sent emails and created a PowerPoint presentation. He kept different charts on the wall tracking progress, constantly updating where he was with each club in the approval process. Eventually, he started checking them off. One element that helped him, he said, was the tasteful, classic, hand-drawn look of his posters. That style wasn’t likely to offend some of the older, more traditional clubs. Plus, his art was telling a story and celebrating these historic spots.
“So starting in July I thought, If we could get these 25 clubs, these are the most likely to say yes,” he said. “Maybe we can get the snowball going.”
Eight whirlwind months after he started, he got his final approval. His Archive 22 brand officially launched in December 2022.
Withington’s posters are meticulously drawn. He doesn’t trace anything. He spends hours researching and investigating photos from all angles to make sure every detail is perfect. He’s proud of that fact, too. Pictures can by blurry and some minor details are hard to make out in paintings, but his careful strokes with the pencil bring people in even closer. They can make out names, distinguish key features. The goal is to make them stop and look and discuss. Not just glance as they walk by.
Withington has created more artwork since — all of which has required the same laborious approval process. He sold out of his U.S. Open and PGA Championship prints at those majors over the summer (you could find him in the merchandise tents signing them) and his Ryder Cup drawing is also a favorite. (You can shop his online collection here.)
He wants to continue the evolution, too. Withington would like to get to a spot where he has other artists working for his Archive 22 brand, where he can delegate work based on an artist’s strengths. In the near future he wants to write newsletters for subscribers and draw more prints focused on Stanley Cup winners and the evolution of the NHL. More golf, too.
“That’s the power of logos,” he says. “They unlock the story. Where are you from? What do you value? Where have you been? Who is your favorite player? Getting people talking about golf is where it started.”