Businessman, legendary Columbus golfer Jack B. Key Jr. dies at 88

Jack B. Key Jr., who died Sunday at age 88
Jack B. Key Jr., who died Sunday at age 88

Jack B. Key Jr., one of the best golfers to come out of Columbus, died Sunday at 88.

Key was captain of the Auburn University golf team for four years. He won the Georgia Amateur twice, the Southeastern Amateur twice, the Gala Seniors Championship three times, and was a member of the Four-Man International Championship team.

He has been a member of the GSGA board of directors, and both a board member and golf chairman at Green Island Country Club and the Country Club of Columbus, where he served as president in 1965-66.

In 1971, Key co-founded the Fred Haskins Award, given each year to the country's top collegiate golfer. Haskins was a longtime golf pro at the Country Club of Columbus, who mentored some of the area's best golfers.

Both Key and his younger brother Billy have area golf teaching facilities named for them.

The Jack Key Golf Facility at Auburn University was named for him in honor of his dedication to and long support of Auburn's golf program.

Recently, Billy Key hit

the honorary first drive at Columbus State University's Billy Key Golf Teaching facility on University Avenue, again for his long support of that school's golf program.

The Key Cup, an inter-club competition between local golf clubs, was named for the Key brothers.

Key was inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

He told the Ledger-Enquirer at the time that his win in the 1949 Georgia State Amateur was his most meaningful victory.

"That was my first big win," Key said. "I expect that meant more to me than anything else I've won."

The three City Championships Key won were at the old Lions Club Municipal Course, which was located where the South Commons softball fields now sit.

After the Lions course was demolished, the City Championships moved to Phenix City, so Key helped Bill Godwin and Al Riesenburger found Bull Creek Municipal Golf Course.

"We just needed a golf course," Key said.

"When they tore up the Lions Club, we didn't have a golf course that wasn't a private club.

"We also needed a course for the high schools to play on. Later, of course, Columbus College played (at Bull Creek)."

Key told the Ledger-Enquirer in 2008 how he came to help Auburn build the teaching facility that bears his name.

Key said he and his wife, Erwin -- a 1953 graduate of AU -- were vacationing in Switzerland about 10 years ago and met a couple from Oklahoma with whom they became pals.

About a year later, Oklahoma University opened the Charlie Pope Golf Center, and Key flew out there with some of the AU athletic staff to check out what was then the best such facility in the nation.

"I always wanted to do something for Auburn and I thought this was appropriate," Key said. "I gave them the money to build this thing. The (Oklahoma) architect was real friendly and gave us some good ideas."

He was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 1997.

Respected businessman who loved to build, craft things

While Jack Botts Key Jr. was a prolific amateur golfer from Columbus, but he also was a respected businessman cut out of a little different mold than his banking industry grandfather, father and brother.

“He was sort of wired up to be a mechanical engineer. He was creative, very math-oriented, good with design and enjoyed working on projects,” Key’s son, Jack B. Key III, said Monday, the day after his father’s passing of cancer at age 88.

“He really had no real desire to go into the banking business,” said the younger Key, himself a retired Columbus real-estate executive. “He always said he had much more patience with things than he did people. He could make things do exactly what he wanted them to do, but he didn’t have such luck with people all the time.”

Jack Key Jr. was the son of Jack Sr., who was president of Merchant’s & Mechanic’s Bank, then First National Bank following a merger. His grandfather, James Biggers Key, also was president of Merchant’s & Mechanic’s, while Key’s brother, Billy, served as president of First National until it was later bought out.

Jack Jr., however, loved to design and build things rather than finance them for others. After graduating from Auburn University in 1950, his professional career path led him to a partnership in K&C Construction Co., which built homes, and a partnership in Valley Fir and Redwood Co. He also launched Valley Components Inc., which designed roof and floor systems for buildings across the region.

“In fact, he designed the prototype system that was used in Pizza Huts and Ponderosa Steakhouses,” Jack III said, “He found a little niche with those and sent roof trusses all around for their buildings.”

Key, a marathon-running and weightlifting fitness enthusiast, also was an inventor, developing an exercise stand, a golf putter grip and a shovel, none of which earned him any money, just satisfaction for creating something innovative.

His engineering skills also came in handy when constructing soapbox derby race cars, one of which was driven by the late Columbus Mayor Frank “Butch” Martin, with another car driven by a boy who advanced to the world championship in Akron, Ohio, Jack III said.

Heavily involved in the community, Jack Key Jr. presided over a variety of local organizations. They included the Historic Columbus Foundation, the Country Club of Columbus, the North Columbus Boys Club, the East Columbus Boys Club and the Rotary Club of Columbus. He and his grandfather, father and son all have served as president of the local Rotary affiliate.

“He loved Rotary,” Jack III said. “He had over 50 years of perfect attendance in the organization and was kind of proud of that.”

Other boards he served on included those of the Columbus Fire Department, the Board of Water Commissioners and the stewards board at St. Paul United Methodist Church, which he attended for decades.

But, again, it was crafting things that took up much of his time and interest. He always enjoyed making things out of wood, eventually turning pieces of walnut and other materials into bowls. He even built a grandfather clock that stands today in the home of his wife, Erwin.

“Outside of his family, his passions were always golf and woodworking. He was a master woodworker,” Jack III said. “He had been woodworking since he was a small child. When everybody else was asking for toys at Christmas and on birthdays, he was asking for tools. The tool collection that he began at age 5 he had right up until the moment he passed away ... I know I’m biased, but he was world class in his craftsmanship.”

The family of Jack B. Key Jr. has scheduled a “Celebration of Life” service for 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 2101 Wildwood Ave., Columbus. A visitation with friends will take place after the service.