No matter whatever else anybody could say about the Grey Goatee Golf Association, it hasn’t been much about artistry in its seven years of life.
There are single-digit handicappers among us, and now and then somebody goes really low, by 3GA Tour standards. But most of us, most of the time, are as inartistic as the scraggly facial hair cultivated by men of a certain age because there’s not much else going on that attests to their masculinity.
The same could be said of the tokens of temporary ascendence to the top of the 3GA dogpile. While the vintage sweater that accrues to the winner of the 3GA season title, complete with monogram of all three Gs and the one A, is not the Green Jacket, it is, by god, the Green Cardigan, and is much-coveted. But the Bent Shaft Classic trophy, which goes to the champeen of the 3GA season opener, is the definition of makeshift, a broken driver shaft stuck crookedly into the base of an old discarded lamp.
Nobody ever said they didn’t want it when they were handed it, but it was not out of line to call it just a little bit hokey. That was until the Mildenbergers, son and father, of Olympia, Wash. (capital city of Grey Goatee Nation), got their hands on it.
Digression, here, for a little back story.
The base of the trophy is made of Oregon myrtlewood, a hardy tree with aromatic leaves native to a small patch of coastal southwestern Oregon. It was once part of a matched set of lamps that sat in the living room of Mr. and Mrs. Commissar Sr. in Longview, Wash., the birthplace and hometown of The Commissar.
The other part of the trophy is of an era when eBay was young and ambitious but small enough that other auction sites still dreamed big. Once upon a couple decades ago, a driver came up for bid at a golf auction site (cleverly called GolfAuction.com) that caught a young Commissar’s eye. This was in that early post-Cold War time of loving cooperation between the Commies and the US of A. Believe it or don’t: The clubhead was said to be made from super-hard space-age metals from dismantled U.S. and Soviet nukes. Thus the name: The Peace Missile.
The Commissar never got to launch this missile. A mishap with a trunk lid snapped the shaft in half … and within weeks he had moved on to new novelties. The super-hard space-age clubhead still lies in a drawer somewhere … but the shaft is super-glued into a piece of myrtlewood.
Let’s be true to the truth here: He’d never won shit. But the labyrinthine scoring system of the 3GA sometimes rewards pure, random, blind luck, and so it was for Steve Mildenberger, the son, in the 2012 season opener.
Other players, when they’d claimed the trophy for a year as the Bent Shaft champion, tried in various ways to spiff it up. Bill Caughlin, who (inexplicably) has his name on the Bent Shaft roll call three times, gathered the names of the other winners on a placard and attached it. It didn’t stick.
Mildenberger had bigger ideas. He sanded down the myrtlewood, put a coat of varnish on it, and then turned it over to his dad, John Mildenberger, to apply the art. John is a former illustrator for the Disney company, and is very much a working artist at 84. It’s John who created the golfball-headed fellow with the pointy goatee in the logo for this Website.
John brushed in the lettering in impeccable freehand. Then Steve put another coat of varnish on it, and as you can see in the photo, the Bent Shaft trophy now glows like gold.
It’s still just a busted clubshaft stuck all askew into a throwaway lamp, so it must have been the sun’s glare off the myrtlewood that caused The Commissar’s eyes to water when he got his first good look at it.