COLUMN: A tribute to Ward Stouffer, golf’s gentle giant

'When I would see Ward in the hotel, I would purposely walk with him so others could see me'

BILL FLOWER

Special to The NEWS

I first met Ward Stouffer back in the early 1990’s while working as an assistant golf professional at Moonlake Golf and CC in Saskatoon. Back then, another local course, The Willows, hosted a stop on the Canadian PGA Tour. Like many entrants, Ward, accompanied by Guy Boros, son of PGA legend Julius Boros and a couple of other less notable tour players, would come and play the fantastic Furber gem that was and still is Moonlake Golf and CC.

Saying we met might be a stretch, as it was just a brief but pleasant hello at the pro shop counter and off they went to play.

Fast forward to the summer of 2008, I am now in a dream job as Golf Concierge and Teaching Professional at The Fairmont Hotel in St. Andrews Scotland. Often I would jump in the courtesy shuttle van and go for a ride down the hill to St. Andrews and back to kill a half hour.

On one of these particular forays, we picked up three or four hotel guests at one of the regular stops on the shuttle route, the British Golf Museum, right across the road from the clubhouse at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, aka The Old Course.

I paid no particular attention to the patrons getting onboard until my eyes locked onto a giant of a man who sat in the back seat. As we made the short drive back up the hill to the hotel, I softly asked the driver a colleague of mine, Alex ,who the big guy was and he said “I think he’s a golf pro from Canada.” My memory bank rewound inside my head, and although I knew I had met him, the details of when and where didn’t come flooding back to me. As we exited the van and walked into the hotel, I literally tapped him on the back and introduced myself. This was to be the start of a far more memorable connection than the one at the counter at Moonlake some 17 years previous.

We hit it off immediately and I was so happy to meet another wonderful travelling Canadian golfer, especially one with the pedigree that Ward had.

Within my role at the Fairmont, I really only had one specific duty other than teaching and that was to introduce myself to any golfers staying at the property, engage with them and if necessary attach myself to them like a burr on a cashmere sweater.

The hotel had recently undergone a six-million-dollar refurbishment and my favourite area was a new sports bar that had just been added. So off we went.

Ward informed me that he was there with three members of Fairwinds Golf Course and as they were out sightseeing on their own he was off to have a “nice cold pint” as the British often say.

With the privilege of signing authority for certain “special” clients, I spent about an hour and half with Ward taking care of his “pints” and lunch while I munched on olives and peanuts, washed down with my favorite drink, fresh orange juice and Sprite.

We harkened back to that day in Saskatoon and of course we had the common ground of Furber designed golf courses to extol.

When I would see Ward in the hotel, I would purposely walk with him so others could see me.

I felt like he was mine for the few days he was there and I wanted to let everyone know it.

I remember introducing him to one of the eastern European gals who worked at the hotel and she just kept looking up him and not saying anything. She spoke perfect English, but was speechless at how larger than life he was. That was Ward then and that’s how he was, as usual, a couple of months ago when I last saw him filling up his vehicle at The Petrocan in Parksville, larger than life. I told him my painting days were coming to end and perhaps he and I could do some golf demos and clinics together when my new golf business was up and rolling in 2017. He said that sounded great. Again, he made me feel special.

When Ward left the Fairmont St. Andrews in 2008, he left me his business card and said if I ever came to the island to look him up and be his guest at Fairwinds for a round of golf. I still have that card.

As fate would have it I Ieft Scotland, after 7 years of living away from Canada, just a few months after Wards visit and set my sight on living somewhere close to Qualicum Beach, my favorite childhood vacation spot.

So on a very snowy February day in 2009, I drove to Fairwinds in a borrowed car to say hi. The course was covered in 2 feet of snow and his was the only other vehicle in the parking lot.

When I told him I was relocating to the mid island and was unemployed, he apologetically said he didn’t have any work for me at this point and respectfully I laughed and looked out the window at the snow and said “ Ya I kind of figured that one out”.  We both laughed heartily.

Later that day, I was looking online for work and saw an opening at Fairwinds as a custodian at their fitness center. The job included free golf. I jumped at it, telephoning Ward immediately asking how I could get an inside track. Ward told me it wasn’t for me, but I remember a life lesson my Dad always told me – “Son, just get a foot in the door”.

Two days later I was interviewed, a day later I was trained and the rest they say is history. I took advantage of the free golf, and being new to the area it was a nice benefit to me socially, meeting some of the Fairwinds golfers on a regular basis, as well as the great staff I befriended over the years.

I spent 3 short months there cleaning up after the fitness folk and by that time Ward was right, now it wasn’t for me but my foot was well in the door and it led to me getting hired at Arrowsmith Golf and CC for the rest of that year, opening my own very successful business and cementing my stay in Parksville on a full time basis.

Ward extended an open invitation for me to play the course as his guest anytime,  when I became the local golf writer it legitimatized my request more formally. I covered Fairwinds within my golf articles for 4 years and at times when referring to my interaction with Ward, I referred to him as “the gentle giant”. Not a phrase that I take credit for or one that he definitely hadn’t heard before, just an appropriate description of what he was to me and certainly countless others.

Ward and I didn’t hang out together, we never played a single hole of golf or shared a meal, but we could be described as friends, certainly more than just golf colleagues.

We waved at each other whilst driving through town and always said hi if I saw him with his wife Shelly and his two boys at soccer or in a local store. My good friend Ron Chiovetti, from Isle Golf Cars, who dealt with Ward for years called me to inform me that Ward had passed away; I knew Ron would. He was beaten to the punch by Ross Mantell from Memorial GC and Grant Skellern aka “Bundo” from Morningstar GC whose wife Marilyn worked with Ward for 18 years, both texted me to let me know the sad news. I became part of a Men’s Night team that played Fairwinds a couple times a year Ron, Tim Sheedy, Roger, Rick and myself.

We always spoke highly of Ward; it was common ground. His kindness, warmth, sense of humor and generosity as well as his professionalism, all traits that were easily recognized.

When Ron called,  we spoke for a good 20 minutes and he stated what I often believed that Ward hiring me to clean those damn toilets and skim the pool was a turning point in my life as it’s quite probable I would have left the island and my life’s journey continued elsewhere. As I was reading this to my wife Myra, she said it’s interesting how one person can change another person’s life without even knowing it.

I will be forever grateful for that snowy day in February 2009.

Rest in peace gentle giant, we will all miss you.

— Bill Flower writes a golf column for The NEWS. Email: oceansidegolfcolumn@gmail.com

 

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