One year in high summer, Tormund Giantsbane came to Sedgefield, they’ll tell children around a fire in the years to come. His beard was made of Spanish moss stained red, and lichen brightened the white vest atop his dark green limbs.
And it won’t be as far-fetched as it sounds.
Throughout the course at Sedgefield Country Club, caddies followed their golfers, lugging along their burdens of bags, clubs and moral support. So too did Topiary Joe’s crew accompany him onto the site of the Wyndham Championship, though their burdens, unloaded from an 18-foot trailer, seemed odd in comparison — enormous steel frames and 300 pounds of moss.
For this year’s PGA Tour event that ended Sunday, the Wyndham hired Topiary Joe — also known as Joe Kyte from Tellico Plains, Tenn. — to provide custom-designed sculptures from ⅜-inch steel frames, sheet moss, Spanish moss, lichen, zinnias and lantanas.
The art of topiary has taken Kyte and his crew around the world — Chile, Ireland, Dubai, Guatemala, Times Square — creating sculptures for DreamWorks, Disney, Iggy Azalea, Prince Charles and many others.
At his first PGA Tour event, Kyte weighed the pros and cons as they compared to the many other events he’s worked.
“They could have chosen a cooler day!” he barked smiling.
At Sedgefield, Kyte’s sculptures included two enormous pineapples that incorporated 300 1-gallon floral plants — augmenting Wyndham’s “Southern charm” theme — a logo reading “#WYNDHAMCHAMP” and two larger-than-life golfers who flanked a road that cuts through the course.
But most memorable among the many mossy creations was the large-than-life likeness of Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju — best known as the red-headed wildling Tormund Giantsbane from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”— who stood watchful as another topiary sculpture of golfer Brandt Snedeker squatted down to evaluate a stretch of putting green.
When not fighting White Walkers with Jon Snow, Hivju plays the role of the Wyndham Rewards Wyzard, a whimsical mascot whose bearded cheer and bursts of blue smoke have commanded the Wyndham Hotel Group’s multi-million dollar marketing campaign. (On a 94-degree day, Hivju’s gruff optimism upon a Mist-er Cool spray-stand didn’t quite manage to convince its sprayees that they’d ventured north of the Wall.)
Joe Kyte and his crew had worked on the Wyndham frames for a month from their shop in Tellico Plains. They’d spent a week at Sedgefield assembling their sculptures, and on Aug. 18, during the tournament’s second round, they’d finally finished. Only maintenance tasks followed, applying more dye or reattaching moss that had fallen loose.
Away from their work, the topiary crew didn’t necessarily bewilder anyone, but their sweaty shirts and dirt-covered hands were indeed out of place among the immaculate sundresses and salmon-colored polos peppering the grounds at Sedgefield. Yet like many others outside a large pavilion near the Wyzard sculpture, Kyte and his crew enjoyed a respite of Bloody Marys in the early afternoon.
When considering how the Wyndham compared to other events, it wasn’t necessarily the sculptures or the people around them that affected Kyte’s evaluation. It was the life of his works.
“I’d like to do more natural logos for places like country clubs — not just a big-ass edifice of steel,” Kyte admitted, addressing the doom of his adhesive-attached moss that died slowly in the heat and humidity.
Unlike his temporary structures at Sedgefield, many of Kyte’s other sculptures don’t leave their sites. His life-sized elephants, giraffes, Porsches and corporate logos find their forever-places upon first assembly. Kyte grows a shrubbery into the framed sculptures, or he uses 50-pound fishing line to stuff and secure sphagnum moss, vines, succulents, annuals or perennials. The plants in these sculptures stay alive.
Fortunately, though the frames at Sedgefield will go into storage until next year, Kyte can reuse the moss.
“The moss will still have live spores, so I’ll go sprinkle it around,” he explained. To cultivate moss, the crew often blends it with buttermilk and pours the concoction over growing areas to later harvest for further projects.
Like an old folktale, Kyte’s moss reanimates in a familiar land. It rises up again in a new form, soon to belong to a new large-than-life creation in a far-off place.