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How a rooster at the Sanderson Farms Championship became the PGA Tour’s best trophy

It’s indisputable: Reveille the Rooster is one of the great trophies in sports. We had to find out more on how it came into existence and developed a cult following at the PGA Tour’s Jackson-area stop.

PGA: Sanderson Farms Championship - Final Round
Sunday’s Sanderson Farms winner, Ryan Armour, gets his rooster trophy.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s like going out in the yard and finding a badass rooster scuffling along and kicking up dirt” is not the first thing that may come to mind when conjuring up the image of a golf trophy. But that’s how Malcolm DeMille, the artist responsible for creating one of the PGA Tour’s most distinct (and I’d argue iconic!) trophies, characterizes “Reveille the Rooster.”

The Sanderson Farms Championship may not be the most prestigious event on the PGA Tour circuit, but in a few years, it has carved out a niche identity during the season’s wraparound fall schedule. It’s a smaller tournament with a cult following among the PGA Tour diehards and with a more important community-wide embrace in Jackson, Miss. And the emblem of it all is its trophy: Reveille the Rooster.

I’ll come out and say it early — I’m in the tank for Reveille, a grand specimen. When you win the Sanderson Farms Championship, you’re not going to mistake the trophy for any of those blasé cups, vases, plaques or other participation awards you might have back home. You’re getting the proud cock, strutting into your house with its chest out and its flashy-colored patinas owning the trophy case.

I needed to know more about what’s become of one of golf’s most unmistakable trophies and should, in my humble opinion, occupy a place next to the Claret Jug, green jacket, Ryder Cup, and the other iconic and cool awards in the game.

Sanderson Farms Championship - Final Round Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

A Reveille origin story

A rooster is obviously a nod to Sanderson Farms’ chicken business, and Reveille is the finished product of a process that melded the idea of Joe Sanderson, the company’s CEO, and DeMille, the sculptor in California who has created several trophies for worldwide golf events. Sanderson knew he wanted a rooster trophy from the start.

“Joe Sanderson had it right off the bat, from the moment we signed the first agreement,” said Steve Jent, tournament director of the championship. “We really didn’t look at anything else. I know tournaments have crystal, silver. But he really honed in on a bronze, full-scale, life-size rooster right out of the get-go.”

But this is not just any chump variety or random rooster off the street. It’s a specific kind of rooster, modeled after Chauntecleer from The Nun's Priest's Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. “Sanderson had an idea in his mind of a chanticleer rooster, which in his mind is a very colorful, large breed of rooster,” added Jent.

Making Reveille

DeMille went to work to bring Sanderson’s idea to life. He’s been in the business for more than 25 years, but he has evolved with the technology and now begins the process working exclusively with digital tools. He’s been using software for what he estimates is 10 years.

“It will allow me to sculpt in the computer in what we call ‘digital clay,’” said DeMille. “So I can actually feel and create with clay inside the computer and see it in a form.” He analogized it to how animated characters are now created for movies.

But like a golfer who may think he’s found his patterns on the range only to come undone once the shots start counting on the course, the digital sculpting can take DeMille only so far. He prints out mini renderings of the digital sculpture on a 3D printer.

“In the computer there’s still that other dimension — you can’t see or feel or sense the backside. You can’t envision it in the whole round. So I can’t totally trust making it in the computer and popping it up in the printer and printing it out. You still gotta have it, and hold it, and work it.”

The 3D test prints allow him to check proportions and the “attitude of the piece” and then get approval from Sanderson. It also allows him to add sculpting clay to the 3D printings and work it with his hands.

The process of creating the first Reveille took three to four months, DeMille estimates. The model is actually made up of six pieces: six different molds that are cast into bronze, polished, ground, and then welded together. Chemicals are applied to create the colors, which he said is a permanent change that takes just seconds to discolor bronze that has been heated by a torch.

“As soon as that chemical hits the metal at a temperature, it begins to color it right away. It’s an artistic thing to apply the patinas properly to where you get the colors that you want.” The multi-colored bronze trophy is then sealed in wax, which can be burnished.

When he got to the finished Reveille product, DeMille said he was most proud of the “attitude” it displayed. “Obviously a rooster is kind of cocky, so I had a little fun with that,” the veteran sculptor beamed. “It’s got a bit of a cocky attitude. It’s kind of looking you in your face with a ‘Yeah!? What do you want?’ kinda attitude. I like that.”

Who wouldn’t?

Cost of a bronze bird

There’s what DeMille calls a perpetual trophy, the original creation that stays with the championship, and then the slightly smaller individual champions trophies that go home with the winner each year.

DeMille would not say exactly how much his creations cost, but that the perpetual trophies run from “$7,000 to $8,000 on the very low side, and they can go up to $25,000 to $30,000.” The annual champions trophies that are made “might run $5,000 to $10,000 each.”

Artwork used as a trophy

DeMille has been at this a long time and will note that he’s an artist and not a trophy maker. Ultimately, he tries to best represent what the client wants, and the artistic touch demanded for Reveille is what makes this job for the Sanderson Farms Championship so appealing.

“The last thing I want to do is a spun cup, a simple cup with engraving and little handles on it,” he said. “So it’s really fun for us to try to create something unique and different.”

His company does 15 to 17 events on different worldwide tours each year, including two of the other distinct trophies on the PGA Tour: the John Deere Classic’s leaping deer and the Hero World Challenge’s homage to its feline-named host.

Hero World Challenge - Final Round
The Hero World Challenge trophy, which is also now a DeMille creation.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“I create artwork that is used for trophies. I’m not a trophy maker. I create art that people appreciate and will use as a trophy. If somebody wins it, they put it up in their office or showroom or pool table room or what have you. It’s a cool piece that has more going on than just a trophy with their name on it.”

Naming rights

When your trophy is some “badass” rooster, it needs more than just a default moniker like [blank] Championship/Open/Invitational Trophy. It needs its own name, and Sanderson knew what he wanted to call it from the beginning.

Again, it’s pretty intuitive, in the way that a chicken company would have a big-ass rooster for a trophy.

“A rooster calls for the beginning of the day; Reveille is the call to start the day,” said Jent. “So [Sanderson] wanted the rooster to be called Reveille. So the rooster calls, you get up for work.”

Simple enough, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to say.

Sanderson Farms Championship - Final Round
Cody Gribble, last year’s winner of the Sanderson Farms Championship .
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

A community emblem

I’ll slow down to make a point beyond the idol worship. The tournament director, Jent, said that the Reveille silhouette is now in demand in the community.

“It’s actually turned out to be pretty cool because now we have a secondary logo, which has actually become very popular.”

It’s all over the grounds, and the Sanderson Farms Championship attendees and the fans from the Jackson area want merch with the Reveille silhouette. A PGA Tour official said he saw hats, shirts, bags, etc. with the logo spread across the course.

The PGA Tour’s growth over the past two decades, largely thanks to Tiger Woods, is a well-worn story. The Tour has evolved and become a cash game that probably even the most optimistic could not have envisioned. The days of the best pros driving from stop to stop and grinding to get by, even while at the top of the game, have been gone for decades.

There’s a FedExCup that doles out $70 million over four weeks at four of the biggest markets in the country, markets where the PGA Tour may not exactly be in the center of the radar screen. Just this week, opposite the Sanderson, was the final WGC of the year, a four-event series with no cuts, a closed-off, world-rankings points party, with hefty guaranteed paychecks for all involved.

There were 47 events on the PGA Tour last year, and all but five had total purses of at least $6 million. The Sanderson Farms Championship checked in at $4.2 million; only the Barbasol Championship (opposite the British Open) was lower at $3.5 million. This year’s Sanderson purse jumped slightly, to $4.3 million, which was $5.45 million less than the PGA Tour’s WGC event on the other side of the world.

This is not to say that the growth is bad or those big-money events, however needlessly extravagant and forced they may feel at times, are not the “real” PGA Tour. It’s just to illuminate that the stop in Jackson is not that. The contrast between the Sanderson and a WGC could not be more stark. Both are good to have on the PGA Tour schedule, but it’s not crazy to wish that there were more like the small-market rally and enthusiasm that comes through in Jackson.

“This is a huge point of community pride,” Dr. Mary Taylor told me. She’s the interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Batson Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in Mississippi and a major beneficiary of the charitable money raised.

The Sanderson Farms is more than just the distinct trophy and the hipster preference of diehard PGA Tour fans. It’s an annual highlight for one of the Tour’s smaller markets. Hearing Dr. Taylor and other locals talk about their pride in having the event felt organic and not run through the PR machine, like you often feel like you’re getting from sponsors, venues, and the Tour at many other tournaments.

“It’s an honor to be a stop on the PGA Tour. It’s a very big deal, and our whole community gets involved and engaged and excited to have it here. Everyone in the community gets very excited about having such a large, national stage for Jackson, Mississippi and it’s a big boost to our entire community, but especially the children’s hospital ... We are really indebted to this tournament for helping us secure funds to be able to build a children’s hospital expansion,” Dr. Taylor said.

Reveille may be the star, but the children’s hospital patients get in on the chicken art, too, painting the tee markers for the week:

Ryan Armour’s win on Sunday was the latest in what is still the early stages of a 10-year contract that Sanderson signed in 2015 to be the title sponsor of the Jackson-area stop. So while it may not be the biggest cash game on Tour, it does have a committed title sponsor and a community that’s all in, rallied around an unmistakable identity and trophy, the badass bird that’s become its symbol.