“I was just hoping nothing happened to it during the ceremony,” said Brand, who, along with his wife, Susan Thomas, owns and operates Virtu Studio and Gallery on the grounds of The Greenbrier. “There are certain ways you wouldn’t want to hold it, because it’s very fragile.”
When all went as planned, though, Brand was able to stand with pride, soaking in a moment that was years in the making.
Brand first came to The Greenbrier in 2009, opening up a shop to sell his glass creations at the Artists’ Colony, and in 2013 he built a hot glass shop from the ground up, giving him a place to craft his art on site.
Two years after opening the glass shop, Brand had an idea. He had seen trophies handed out to the winners of The Greenbrier Classic for five years, and he thought why not make the trophy a little more meaningful by designing it at The Greenbrier?
“I knew I could do as good a job as anybody they could get,” he said.
Brand pitched his idea to those in charge of the annual PGA TOUR FedExCup event at The Greenbrier, and he got the approval to submit design ideas.
He submitted three that first year, the Springhouse design that was ultimately selected, along with two other more colorful, organic designs. He favored the Springhouse submission and was thrilled when it was ultimately chosen.
“That’s the one I really wanted to do,” he said. “The Springhouse is iconic with all the logos, so I centered the idea around that and golf. It was a classic look.”
With the design chosen, the work began. Brand said he put about 100 hours spread over three or four months into that first trophy, which he planned to have ready to hand to the champion of The 2016 Greenbrier Classic.
“It was probably technically the most challenging thing I’ve done, because of the exactness that was required,” Brand explained. “Putting it all together, there were a lot of different parts that had to be put together using a glass epoxy.
“When you glue glass, everything has to be really exact. So, all of the columns needed to be exactly the same height and then finally ground to the same height.”
Brand also elicited some help from some friends. Having worked in the glass crafting business for more than 40 years since receiving a degree from the Tyler School of art in Philadelphia, Brand knows plenty of people in the business. So, when it was time for some extremely technical engravings on the top of the Springhouse dome, he called on an associate from Corning, N.Y., just to be sure everything came out perfectly.
About three weeks before the scheduled start of the tournament, the trophy was finished, except for engraving the tournament dates.
That’s when disaster struck. What weather officials termed a 1,000-year flood swept through Greenbrier County, West Virginia, claiming property and lives and ultimately forcing the cancelation of The 2016 Greenbrier Classic.
Since the date hadn’t been engraved, though, Brandt’s work wasn’t lost. The trophy sat on display in the Lower Lobby of The Greenbrier for almost a year, before it was finally handed to Schauffele on Sunday, July 9, 2017.
But Brand’s long, strange adventure with the trophy was only beginning.
After presenting it to Schauffele on the 18th green of The Old White TPC, as the rookie golfer beamed with pride and the crowd cheered, the question became how to get this fragile piece of art back to Schauffele’s home in San Diego.
Brand decided the best way was for him to hand deliver it to the winner’s home.
He went online and did his research, eventually determining that he could bubble wrap the trophy and place it in the overhead compartment on a flight to San Diego. He would check the box that keeps it safe, and upon arrival he would place it back in the box and deliver it to the champion.
But when Brand boarded the plane for the first leg of his flight, there was a problem. He was on a smaller plane, filled with passengers, and the trophy simply wouldn’t fit overhead. He had no choice but to put the trophy back in the box and check it with the rest of his luggage.
“The flight attendants assured me that it would be upright and in a safe place,” Brand remembered. “I had to change planes in Charlotte, and I saw an attendant actually toss it. I knew at that point I had to do it a different way.”
The trophy was shattered in pieces when Brand arrived. He was able to reuse about half of the parts, but he had to reassemble his work of art before even considering a new plan for delivering it to Schauffele.
When the work was done, Brand eventually decided the best approach was to book the trophy its own seat, and that’s just what he did. He booked the seat next to him, strapped the box in and flew it back to California.
“I didn’t want to put it in anybody else’s hands,” said Brand, who has had his work displayed in the Corning Museum of Glass, as well as the Smithsonian.
With the delivery complete, it was time to focus on 2018. A new champion will be crowned this week, which means the tournament needed a new trophy.
This year’s glassware will look a little different, aside from being adorned with a new name and logo, “A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.”
Brand submitted just one design this time around, and it was approved. The main part is more of a large vessel, sitting atop a smaller springhouse. The vessel is made from green glass and it’s adorned on the side with two Greenbrier G handles, cut with a waterjet.
“I think it’s a really great design,” said Brand. “Everyone who has seen it seems to like it. The Springhouse on it gives a nod to the permanent trophy that stays on display in the clubhouse.
“It’s taken a lot of tries. There are a lot of little things that people who don’t know glass wouldn’t be aware of. But we’re proud of what we’ve created, and we look forward to presenting it to a new champion.”
For an inside look at how Brand’s creations are made, visit Virtu Studios during your trip to A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier or anytime you visit America’s Resort. Live glassblowing is performed Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with glassblowing demonstrations on Monday through Thursday at 2 p.m. Glassblowing lessons are available Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Learn more by visiting www.virtuatthegreenbrier.com