The sculptor behind the coolest trophies in golf

by | Oct 18, 2021 | LPGA

Malcolm DeMille handcrafts the tiger trophy that will be presented to the Hero World Challenge winner.

Malcolm DeMille

When one imagines the most iconic hardware in professional golf, the gleaming trio comes to mind: the silver Claret Jug, the massive 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy, and the gold Ryder Cup Trophy, crowned by a character from Abe Mitchell . If you want to make it an even foursome, you can compete in the Masters Trophy, introduced in 1961, with the Augusta National clubhouse.

But if the Center Pompidou or the Tate Modern would showcase the most sensational prizes in the world of golf, savvy curators would forego plain metal for large tournaments in favor of a collection of sculptures by Malcom DeMille. The elaborate craftsmanship of the Californian artisan is handed out a few dozen times a year on the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions Circuit.

It has been over thirty years since DeMille’s Nipoma facility, which employs a 17-person team, started producing the grand prize for major golf tournaments, but it’s a Sunday tradition that never gets old.

“A lot of everyday people work in the foundry here. They work hard – they pour metal, they polish, they finish, they mount and they assemble the trophies. The staff really enjoy watching the trophies on TV, and so do we every time, ”says Malcolm DeMille.

The arts run deep in DeMille’s blood. Hollywood legend Cecil B. DeMille, who produced and directed The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah, is just a few branches up in his family tree, and his father Leslie B. DeMille was a well-known painter and sculptor. His work is featured in many prestigious collections, including the Navy Combat Art Museum in Washington, DC and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi, California.

Malcolm DeMille, 67, might have found an entirely different way to channel his artistic ambitions if his father hadn’t decided to move to southern California from Hamilton, Ontario to advance his career.

“My father was really amazing. He put together a family with five children and a dog and moved with him from Canada in 1958. As I watched my father grow up, I knew I wanted to do my own thing. “

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI – OCTOBER 03: The Sanderson Farms trophy is seen on the first tee during the … [+] Sanderson Farms Championship Finals at the Country Club of Jackson on October 03, 2021 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

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DeMille showed a talent for painting as an adolescent, but the medium didn’t catch on with him. When he painted an apple, he was afraid that he would not be able to see the back of the fruit. He found himself drawn to a more tactile artistic endeavor and used his hands to manipulate metal. In his early twenties he did an apprenticeship with Sid Burns, a western sculptor in Laguna Beach, before going into business for himself. DeMille’s initial focus was on tropical fish, marine ornaments, and other Hawaiian jewelry. Sales would dry up during the energy crisis and he turned to a much more lucrative niche, making bespoke pieces for country clubs.

He started small, making hole-in-one pendants and club logo pieces for a golf club that his brother was a part of. Armed with samples, he then hammered the cart tracks in the greater Palm Springs area from club to club, pushing his goods around until his courage paid off.

“PGA West, Mission Hills and La Quinta Country Club all sported oak logos. We made tons of gold jewelry in the late 1970s to 1980s – we have probably 35 to 40 different forms of oak jewelry and that really got us going, ”explains DeMille.

As the ball was rolling, DeMille made a 9-inch bronze Bob Hope figure on a lark to show off his skills, and while no one bought the likeness of the great entertainer, the Hope sculpture, which still stands in his office today, was impressive. Tournament organizers who create better-known appearances in the industry. DeMille was hired to create Pro-Am Award sculptures and cash for the Dinah Shore – an LPGA major championship. The attention he generated from years of attending this event raised DeMille’s profile and he received his first trophy commission for the PGA Tour winner, the Nissan Open, in 1990

“I had to be there to shake hands with Fred Couples when he won, and that was pretty nice,” said DeMille.

Jin Young Ko poses with the Cognizant Founders Cup trophy from Malcolm DeMille (photo by Sarah … [+] Taurus / Getty Images)

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While his company has made a few mugs over the years, Malcom DeMille’s calling card is the sculptural art: the hopping deer trophy for the John Deere Classic, the photorealistic rooster for the Sanderson Farms Championship, the endangered Torrey pine for the Farmers Insurance Open , and the cinematic medium-stroke brush for the Valspar championship on a marble plinth with a lazy Susan feature.

“When people ask us for a cup, we groan. If someone wants a mug that has just been engraved, let’s tell them if that’s what you’re looking for, we may not be the best company for you and I don’t mind telling people that. I don’t get much satisfaction from serving a typical mug. If it doesn’t have a molded element or a handcrafted part, it’s just not the same for me, ”admits DeMille.

Recent DeMille works include the headstock pin-flag guitar that won the first Constellation Furyk & Friends now on Phil Mickelson’s trophy rack, and the thick, 23-inch, three-dimensional version of the LPGA logo who was awarded to the winner of the Cognizant Founders Cup.

While Tour Trophies get the most hype, the bulk of Malcolm DeMille Inc’s sales come from Pro-Am-Attendance souvenirs, prizes, and awards. Of course, the big balls bring in a pretty penny. The creation fee for the top prizes on the DeMille Leaderboard is between $ 10 and $ 25,000, with reorders costing up to $ 16,000.