The entrance of the Golfland castle in Mesa is going through a dramatic transformation. That’s because local sculptor Toby Thomas has been hard at work creating a new look for the entryway to the mini-golf park.

Thomas, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, has spent the past six months constructing a more than 8-foot-tall dragon statue that will soon sit at the front doors. The artwork is nearly finished and will be up at Golfland later this week for all to see.

The dragon, a steel and rebar tube, plaster and fiberglass figure looks as if it were carved from centuries-old stone. It is part of a multi-phased project to re-vamp the image of Golfland Sunsplash. Thomas’ dragon, along with a smaller dragon, parrot and anchor sculpture will take shape within the next months at the popular East Valley water and amusement park

Thomas learned of the Golfland opportunity through word of mouth, which is how he finds most of his jobs these days, he said. As a self-employed artist and designer, he doesn’t always know where his next job will come from. Thomas is an experienced graphic designer, architectural concept designer, painter and sculptor, so his wide range of abilities has helped him find employment.

“I do any kind of artistic thing I can get my hands on. I used to call myself a painter, but they (employers) have been asking for sculptures lately,” he said.

Thomas is truly a jack-of-all-trades, as far as art and design goes. His work ranges from modern art-esque sculptures and paintings in California hotels to designing and building models for residential and commercial architects.

“As an artist, you’ve got to be versatile,” he said.

For years Thomas worked as a custom home architectural model artist, but when the housing crisis hit, a career in the home industry no longer was a lucrative one.

“Until this recession,” he explained, “Phoenix had been a good place for my realm of work. I had some great projects lined up, but a lot of clients canceled after the stock market crashed ... working in the housing industry, it’s been tough.”

In the meantime, Thomas has been keeping busy pursuing sculptural work, such as the dragon for Golfland. Although he mainly focuses on fine art, this “themed art” project, as he calls it, has been enjoyable nonetheless.

“It definitely has been attracting the neighbors. People I don’t even know come up and ask what I’m making,” he said.

Thomas likes knowing that kids going to Golfland will grow up seeing and remembering his statue.

“It’s a landmark, so that would be a great place for my work.”


Leslie D’Ambrosio is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.


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