Dunes Club Head Golf Pro A Self-Taught Golfer, Artist

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. - Dennis Nicholl, who is in his fifth year as head golf professional at the highly regarded Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach, S.C., laughs when he says that he has never taken a single golf lesson.

He hasn't ever had a painting lesson either, yet he is an accomplished artist. Nicholl is all about creatively taking the road less traveled.

While most club professionals yearn to play golf for a living and take up the game at an early age, Nicholl was at first drawn to the business of golf when he was 18 and working a summer job between football seasons at Pine Valley Golf Club, 30 miles north of Detroit.

He was the starting punter and placekicker for Central Michigan University, following in his older brother Kevin's footsteps. Kevin made a school record 56 field goals in his collegiate career and even had an NFL tryout with the Arizona Cardinals.

Dennis was pretty good, too, with the ability to reach the crossbar from 50 plus yards away. But, he focused mainly on punting during his last two seasons for the Chippewas. Then he found golf.

"When I started playing, I used a baseball grip and hit a big slice, but I was determined to teach myself how to play," said Nicholl, who fell in love with the game by summer's end.

When he got back to school for his junior year, he switched from studying art and history to majoring in hospitality services, with an eye on getting into the business side of the golf industry. He was named director of golf at PohlCat Golf Course in Mt. Pleasant, Mich., at age 21, even though he had yet to graduate from college and had not passed the Playing Ability Test offered by the PGA of America as the first step toward the PGA Professional's Class "A" Status.

"When I took the Playing Test, that was the first time I ever had a make a two-foot putt for real," said Nicholl, 41, a sharp dresser who humbly calls himself one of the best social golfers in the area. "I'm a pretty good player for a captain's choice charity event and I can scrape it around at about par. But I am honestly more afraid of a 120-yard shot from the middle of the fairway than a shot from the woods. My best shots are when I'm getting out of trouble.

"It must be a right brain thing that I can be creative enough to see my way out of trouble. I really enjoy making those shots."

For the record, Nicholl has a best of 5-under-par 67 from the blue tees at the Dunes Club, but he is most proud that the round was bogey free. More than a great round of golf, however, Nicholl enjoys talking about his latest challenge of being a mural artist, something he started on a whim when his daughter Cassandra was three.

He had the idea of painting her bedroom in a panorama of the Disney princesses, including Snow White, complete with the giant castle, laid against a pink and light blue backdrop. He kept the idea a secret until his wife Cheryl and Cassandra went to visit Cheryl's parents in Pinehurst, N.C., for a long weekend.

Then, he went to work, completely underestimating the scope of the project.

"I spent $175 on acrylic paint and supplies and spent more than 40 hours sketching and painting over the four days and when the weekend was done, I had finished just a small wall behind the bedroom door," said Nicholl sheepishly. "The place was a mess!"

"My wife walked in and said, 'What are you doing?!?' I had no idea what I was doing. I was learning as I was going along. My painting was improving with each stroke. So, I asked her to trust me on this one. And in three long months, painting a few hours each night, it was finished."

Nicholl didn't touch a paintbrush again for four years before his wife asked, "What are you going to do for Kyle's room?"

Kyle, his son, was now four and the family was again headed to Disney World on a family vacation. There, Nicholl saw exactly what he was searching for on a Disney store wall. It was a huge mural that combined all the animated movie characters from Jungle Book and Lion King.

This time, it was another three months and a $275 investment. His work, however, was more polished, with blended shadowing and a professional-like detailing of the characters.

"When I think back, I guess I got the artistic gene from my grandmother," said Nicholl. "I could always doodle or draw characters, but I had trouble with drawing people in detail. I've come a long way, I guess."

His current artwork will be his first for public display. In August, a handful of Dunes Club members will visit its sister course of Woodenbridge Golf Club in County Wicklow, Ireland, for a friendly competition.

Nicholl hopes to have his members present an oil paint rendering of the local Irish church where Woodbridge member and high-ranking church official Father Jerry O'Brien served the Catholic faith until his death in February 2011.

O'Brien was also an honorary member of the Dunes Golf & Beach Club.

"This is the first time I've tried to do something in oil," said Nicholl, always eager to accept a new challenge with confidence and optimism. "I hope it turns out alright."

Like most things that Nicholl has conquered without benefit of a lesson, it will turn out just fine.


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