As caddies, we travel every week to different cities and countries. We cross paths with lots of different and interesting people.
Often the volunteers at the tournaments are the same people year in and year out.
Case in point this last week in Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village.
Every year, the caddies park at the residents’ association and then are shuttled to the course. It’s an area only for those with the caddie parking pass. So, it requires a parking attendant to man the entrance and act as the gatekeeper, if you will.
Enter Jim Stelzer.
He is highly recognizable.
An elderly gentleman in a high-visibility orange vest, sitting on his wooden stool that he brings himself. He has on his headphones to keep him entertained. And in his hands are the tools of his trade… well the tools of his hobby anyway.
You see, Jim is a whittler. And part of his recognizable allure is that he sits on the stool at the entrance, head bowed over toward the wood he is whittling into an intricate chain.
Jim is 90 years old. Ninety! He was born and raised in Columbus and he’s as sharp as a tack. And as you drive to the caddie lot and turn in the entrance past his stool in the middle of the road, he always looks up from his whittling and waves you through with a graceful smile.
Jim has been volunteering at the Memorial Tournament for over 30 years and he has had his illustrious post at the caddie parking entrance for the last 21 of those. As he described, “the last gentleman here at this post passed away, and they moved me up here. I’ve been here ever since.”
Jim and his family are well-known to the Columbus area. The Stelzer name has a long history. With land owned by the family in the airport area, Jim watched the evolution of the land in question. Originally, he described, there was a wagon path right through the property. In later years, a railroad was built through the land, and then eventually the path was paved into a road. That road is known to this day as “Stelzer Road,” which runs right along the western boundary of the airport. He attended a ceremony not too long ago for the addition of a bronze historical marker by the new south runway.
In his working life, Jim was a telephone man, where he worked for Ohio Bell, now known as AT&T. He has been retired 35 years but remembers it like yesterday when he and his coworkers visited the very area of the tournament 50 years ago.
“I came with the telephone engineers to bury telephone conduit,” he told me. “There was nothing here but open fields. Not a blade of grass, no houses, nothing! We were just putting in utilities, and this is what it has grown into. I watched the whole thing kind of sprout.”
But back to the whittling.
He proudly holds up the chain he is working on with his trusty pocket knife. He describes that it takes him about 3-4 months to complete a chain depending on the length and the intricacy of the project. Once he is finished, he carves out a Masonic symbol and adds it to the chain to be worn as a type of necklace.
He presents it to the past Masters of the Lodge where he meets.
It’s incredible to see the handiwork he produces with just a piece of wood and a knife. An impressive art-form for sure.
“I’m the only one of my friends who can walk and whittle at the same time,” Jim adds. “I finish up here at the parking lot and I keep whittling as I walk all the way to where my car is parked.”
I was going to suggest we need to get him a spot in the caddie lot, but I think that would upset his whittling routine.
I’d actually love to see a caddie trophy initiated next year. Perhaps a medal. An all-wood medal and chain. And I think the winning caddie medal should be made, and presented, by Jim Stelzer at the ceremony.
At 90 years old, you won’t meet a sharper and friendlier gentleman. He told me he is aiming for 100. I hope myself and the other caddies get to experience his help for another 10 years or more. I’m already looking forward to next year as I pull into the caddie lot, have Jim look up from his whittling, and wave me through with his graceful smile. Who knows… maybe he will be whittling that caddie trophy.
Thanks to Jim, and to every volunteer at the Memorial Tournament.