Eight years ago I went on an Eastern Oregon road trip with my wife and in-laws.
We visited Steens Mountain, The Alvord Desert, and the Round Barn.
We stopped one day for a quick nine holes of golf at Valley Golf Club in Hines.
And in my rental set, there was “Shotgun Willie”, a graphite-shafted, metal-headed driver with the added inscriptions “Doctor of Distance” and “Jumbo Weapon.”
Despite that colorful self-promotion “Willie” did me no favors on the course that day and I left him behind.
But I didn’t forget about him and often shared pictures of the lad with golfing buddies for a good laugh.
A few years later, on a freelance assignment in the area, I stopped by Valley GC for a visit, and poking around in maintenance by the first tee I found him again.
It was sort of a sad reunion: he was just another old club in a barrel inside a falling-down shed.
So I went into the clubhouse and offered to buy Willie and give him a better life.
But the nice lady behind the counter said she just worked there and really didn’t have the authority to see a used golf club to a stranger.
So I left my name and number and asked her to call if anything changed.
Not expecting to turn up much, I started researching “Shotgun Willie.”
I found out it’s the title track on a 1973 Willie Nelson album. Also the name of a notorious Denver-area strip club, now closed and bankrupt.
I Googled up a set of “Willies” auctioned online for the Broward County, Florida first tee program.
So no, not much in the way of actual information about the club.
And then the call came in from Valley GC that Shotgun Willie was mine.
That meant another trek to Hines where I named my price and walked off with the “Jumbo Weapon” for three bucks.
Looking closely at the “World Tour Maximum Game Improvement Graphite” shaft with the “Low Torque” and the “Lifetime Warranty” showed me it was produced by a company called “Lion USA.”
Which turns out to be Lion Gold, Inc., a Central Oregon clubmaker from 1989 to 2007 when owner Kim Cole pulled the plug.
Kim has passed on but I found his wife Eileen living just a few miles from our studio.
She was absolutely delightful but declined to comment when I dropped by carrying her graphite-shafted, metal-headed son.
A peel and stick label led me down another path to Stan Jaye at an Eagle Crest address, quite likely the last golfer to own Willie.
Stan died 10 years ago but I tracked down his son in Bend who tells me Stan was an avid golfer who would play with anybody, anywhere, as long as they kept moving on the course.
And I found a Cascade Mountain connection; Stan’s ashes were scattered over Middle Sister, a perfect resting place for any golfer.
The Mountain’s other name is “Hope.”
But ultimately this was another “no comment” and another layer of mystery.
Stan’s son says his dad was a lefty, making him a 180-degree bad fit for the “Jumbo Weapon.”
So there the search ends and I guess it’s just Willie and me and all those ghosts now.
I’ll keep him in my golf bag, always in reach and I’ll let him out to play once in a while – whenever my ailing tee-game needs a prescription from “The Doctor of Distance.”