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Nearly 90, this PLAYERS volunteer keeps 'em smiling at the 18th

Bill Kelley Jr., a marshal at the 18th hole, is working as a volunteer for the 46th year.
Michael Curet/

May 10, 2012

By Michael Curet, Special to TAP

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- When longtime TPC Sawgrass storyteller and PLAYERS volunteer marshal Bill Kelley Jr. was born in 1922, Warren G. Harding was the. President and Gene Sarazen had just won the U.S. Open.
Kelley celebrates his 90th birthday on June 29. On Thursday, for the 46th straight year, he was there on the No. 18th green when the first round started at 7:15 a.m. ET, doing what he has done for almost half a century on the golf course -- making people smile.

"I meet folks from all over the world," Kelley said. "My job is to make people happy, help them anyway I can and make sure they don't bother the golfers too much."

A Virginia native and a retired General Electric employee, Kelley still gets as much enjoyment out of his job as he ever did. The only difference now is that he works only mornings on the weekend so he can beat the traffic to get to his Jacksonville home and watch the rest of THE PLAYERS Championship on television.

"I'll have a rum and coke and sit back and relax," he said.

One of his favorite PLAYERS moments came a couple of years ago on No. 18 when he was working in the landing area and noticed a young couple that didn't appear to know a lot about golf.

"They walked up to me and asked, 'Who are the two players in the fairway?' and I told them that most golfers have their name on the bag," Kelley said. "When they didn't see a name, I told them 'I guess one is named Titleist and the other is Maxfli."

In the old days of the Jacksonville Open, Kelley remembers when Lee Trevino approached him on a par-3 hole and couldn't figure out which club to hit. With a puzzled look, Trevino shouted, "I know who designed this hole. Ray Charles!"

Kelley says the game has changed from when he watched the pros in the early days.

"As far as they hit the ball now, it's entirely different," Kelley noted. "It was nice back then when you could see the pros play at Selva Marina or Hidden Hills and brag about making par on a hole that Nicklaus bogeyed. I can't do that here."

Kelley still tries to play golf a couple of times a week. A fellow PLAYERS volunteer, jumping in on the conversation on 18, said Kelley can still shoot his age on the golf course.

"It gets easier every year," Kelley joked. "She's a good friend over there. She knows how to lie for me."

Truthfully, Kelley still tries to play golf a couple of times a week and works one day a week as a starter at Mill Cove Golf Club in Jacksonville.

In addition to his longevity as a marshal at THE PLAYERS, Kelley is known for working as one of the "storytellers" at TPC Sawgrass -- volunteer docents who conduct tours of the golf course and clubhouse.

"When I take people out in a golf cart to the 18th or 17th holes, I try to make them feel good and get some laughs," he said. "There's a group of us that sign up on a Monday for the following month. I do that about three days a month."

In Thursday's opening round, Kelley was hoping to see his new favorite golfer of this generation come through his post on the 18th.

"I really admire Phil Mickelson and what he's done for the game," Kelley said. "He seems to handle everything really well. I'll enjoy watching him."

Leave it to Mickelson and others to maybe add a chapter or two to Kelley's storytelling. Certainly, his book is not completely written yet.

Here are the active volunteers at THE PLAYERS Championship this year who have the longest tenure of working at the PGA TOUR stop in North Florida:
Name Length Area of service
Anne Nimnicht 48 years Office administration
Walt Courtney 46 years Golf carts
Bill Kelley Jr. 46 years Marshal, No. 18
Sharon Searcy 42 years ShotLink
Ann Fontaine 41 years Photography
Linda George 39 years Hospitality zone, No. 17
Jack Palmer 38 years Disable guest services

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