MINNEAPOLIS — It's not the telephone calls that bother Bud Chapman. It's the time he gets them.
"They always seem to come in the middle of the night," Chapman said. "Somebody's in Africa on vacation or they're in Japan on a business trip and they want to know where they have to go to play that golf hole that they've seen so many times in pictures in golf magazines or someplace else.
"They tell me they've been looking all over the country and nobody can tell them where the hole is. But they've just got to play it before they go back home."
The sleepy Chapman then has to explain to the caller that the pictured hole exists only in Chapman's imagination. No matter how real that picture might look, Chapman tells them, the diabolical Victoria Falls hole or the menacing hole at Fujiyama Gardens Country Club can be played only in the mind.
It was just a dozen years ago that Chapman, 64, of Minneapolis, started putting oils to ideas for the fun of it. Now his paintings can be seen in practically every clubhouse or golf locker room in the United States.
Chapman, an excellent golfer in his own right, is a scratch player at Minneapolis Golf Club and has won the State Senior Amateur, the State Senior best-ball and the masters division of the Minnesota Golf Champions.
"I first got the idea for the fantasy holes from people always telling me about some terrific golf hole they had seen or played," Chapman said. "I finally decided that I would manufacture my own holes. Make them as awesome as I could, yet make them look so realistic that people would think they really existed. I wanted to make them surrealistic, so that people would be shocked when they first looked at them, but I also wanted to put them in places where people would think they were believable."
In 1975 Chapman took his first effort--the 168-yard, par-3 Victoria Falls hole (supposedly in South Africa)--to a golf event in which he was entered. The painting turned out to be as popular as a cure for the sliced tee shot.
"I had 300 printed the first time," said Chapman, a commercial artist when he isn't playing golf. "They were gone in practically no time. I was still thinking I was just going to paint them for the fun of it, but I thought that maybe I could sell 3,000 to 4,000 if I got lucky."
Chapman's imagination was also busy. His mind carved a hole through the Giant Sequoias of California, another deep in the Grand Canyon, another on the side of an ice floe beside Lake Superior and another around a Japanese pagoda at mythical Fujiyama Gardens Country Club. Soon he had a nine-hole course and his phone began ringing during the day.
"A guy from Japan once called and ordered 150,000 prints," Chapman recalled. "Over the years, I don't really know how many prints have been sold, but the thing has now turned into a business, and that's not really what I was looking for at the start. I've enjoyed it, but it really hasn't made me rich or I wouldn't be driving the beat-up old car I've got."
Maybe his wallet isn't heavier, but Chapman's office-warehouse facility in St. Louis Park is clogged with boxes of prints to be shipped. Chapman has now completed an 18-hole course as well as a 19th hole.
He has been commissioned to do several special holes for the Western Open, the U.S. Senior Open when the tournament was played at Hazeltine National in 1983, and the new International tournament on the PGA Tour. And his latest effort is a creation for a South Dakota golf mail-order catalogue. Chapman said the company wanted something with a South Dakota theme, and he thought of Mt. Rushmore.
Thus the faces of golf greats Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer now grace Mt. Rushmore, instead of four former presidents. The print costs $65, but Chapman has come up with an added personal touch. For $385, he will paint the face of anybody the buyer desires into the print, alongside the game's legends.