Greatness in amateur golf goes far beyond winning national championships and qualifying for USGA tournaments. To be sure, those are impressive feats that merit acclaim and recognition. But players at that stratum set themselves apart in other ways.
As volunteers, for example, whether serving on golf association committees or running tournaments. They might also coach, mentor or sponsor promising players. Great amateurs embody the very essence of what amateurs are, and what the word means, which is “lover of” in French and, roughly, “to love” in Latin. And their love for golf extends through all aspects of the game.
Seventy-one-year-old Jim Stahl is one of those people, and he demonstrates his affection for golf each year through his hard work on behalf of the Jones Cup Invitational in Sea Island, Ga. He helped start the competition in 2001, and in a decade’s time has helped to build it into one of the strongest amateur tournaments in the world. A 54-hole, individual medal-play event, it brings together Walker Cup hopefuls as well as highly ranked juniors, mid-ams and seniors.
And Stahl’s efforts on its behalf nicely complement the many other things he has done in amateur golf. Such as serving as a member of the USGA’s Mid-Amateur Championship committee for the past 25 years. Or being very active with the Greater Cincinnati Golf Association. Then, there is his rather formidable golf résumé. Stahl won the 1995 U.S. Senior Amateur and has played in more than 30 major amateur championships over the years, including the British Amateur, British Senior Amateur, U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Mid-Amateur.
A native of Pittsburgh whose family moved to Cincinnati after World War II, Stahl has been around the game his entire life. He first picked up a club when he was 11 years old and caddied and worked the bag room at a local club. He got good in a hurry, frequently competing against Jack Nicklaus as a junior player.
Stahl qualified for the 1956 U.S. Junior Amateur and hoped a golf scholarship to Notre Dame was the foundation upon which he could construct a professional playing career. But his father died just as he was getting ready to graduate. That meant Stahl, who was the oldest of seven children, had to go back home to work so he could help his mother support his family. So, instead of starting a life in professional golf, Stahl started a bank training program.
For several years, Stahl gave his mother his paycheck every week, and she gave him an allowance. He did that until he got married in 1965 and started a family of his own. But golf remained very much on the back burner, as he and his wife, Patricia, raised three children. At the same time, he nurtured a small business called Cincinnati Belting and Transmission into a $50 million company.
As the kids grew up and business prospered, Stahl began playing competitively again. What made it all work for him was the creation of the Mid-Am championship in 1981, which allowed him to play once more against his peers – peers he had not played against since he was in college. It was his mulligan, and the chance at the golf life he had so desperately missed.
But Stahl’s re-involvement was more than just playing tournaments. He embraced the entire game, and that was especially apparent prior to the 2001 Walker Cup played at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island. Stahl was a member there, and he hit on the idea of hosting a preview competition on that Rees Jones track, much in the way the NCAA held a preview event for its national championship each year.
“I thought it would be a great way for the teams to get to know each other beforehand,” he recalls. “We invited the practice teams for the U.S. and GBI squads as well as some very good juniors and mid-amateurs. I had some contacts in Ireland and Great Britain from the many times I had played over there, so I sort of became the go-to guy when it came to asking and finding the best players.”
“I enjoyed doing this sort of thing when I competed, meeting golfers from different parts of the world and playing both with and against each other,” he adds. “And I thought it might be fun to do that here, too.”
A member of Seminole, Ocean Forest and the R&A, Stahl still carries a two handicap. But he hasn’t competed in national events for some time. Part of that is a result of three back surgeries that left his left leg weak and unstable for a spell – and left his competitive game somewhat wanting. But it is also because the avuncular man affectionately known as “Grandpa” enjoys golf on a variety levels. Like playing with his friends in club events. And helping to grow the Jones Cup.
“We are playing the Jones Cup every year now, instead of every other, and we expanded the field from 72 to 90 players in 2011,” he says. “More than 50 of the top amateurs in the world came this time around, among them U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who is ranked No. 1 in the world. We are getting the really good players, and we are doing our best to make sure everyone has a good time.”
Jim Stahl says he is very happy with how the Jones Cup has evolved, and understandably so. It‘s one of those things that makes amateur golf great. And amateur golf wouldn’t be great without him.