Duncansville man owns world-famous collection

Most people, at some point during their lifetime, take up an interest or hobby.

Many have a strong enough interest to become collectors – coins, postcards, stamp, etc. Very few, though, amass a collection that becomes world-renowned, but that’s exactly what Lee Crist has done.

He has built a collection of golf tees that is unequaled – publicly or privately – anywhere in the world.

Crist, now 80 years old, was introduced to golf at the age of 12 as a caddy at the Blairmont Country Club. Growing up in Blair County, he would became a football star at Hollidaysburg High School, where he graduated in 1951.

Crist spent most of his working career as a national sales manager of electrical supplies and lived in many areas across the country.

Nearly 40 years ago, while in Florida, a golfing buddy introduced him to the Golf Collectors Society. Intrigued, Crist planned to attend the group’s annual convention for collectors and was amazed by the amount of golf memorabilia – balls, clubs, books and more.

“I could hardly believe the amount of items they had on display,” he said.

Having an urge to collect, Crist knew it would be more fulfilling to specialize on a specific golf item. He quickly settled on something that would become his passion – golf tees.

Two gentlemen he met at the convention were already golf-tee collectors and encouraged Crist to join them. Over the years, Crist would visit antique shops, flea markets and golf trade shows looking for various types of tees. If he found anything, he would share his discoveries with his golf-tee comrades.

Crist soon became an expert, learning that in the early 1900s there were tremendous varieties of items used for teeing up a golf ball. In fact, before the wooden tees we know today, wet sand was used to elevate a tee ball.

In the early days of golf, every tee box had a supply of sand and water – which a golfer pinched into a small, cone-shaped sand mold and placed on the ground. The golf ball was then placed on top of this for the tee shot.

To date, Crist has collected dozens of these rare antique sand molds metal, wooden and ceramic. His most prized piece is a model called the “Alexander” – the first sand mold ever patented – made in 1890 and worth several thousand dollars.

About a hundred years ago, sand molds began being phased out and replaced by golf tees – of all shapes and sizes. Crist has collected nearly every type ever produced. His collection numbers in the thousands, with duplicates of many, even the very obscure.

Over the years, Crist’s collection has grown exponentially. After the sad passing of his two tee-collecting friends, Crist was fortunate to purchase significant portions of each collection.

As it now stands, Crist’s golf tee collection is ranked far above any other in existence. It has become well known in golfing circles throughout the world. He’s been featured in several publications, including the French publication “Colours” and the “History of Golf,” a documentary on the History Channel.

A visit to his Duncansville home reveals an amazing collection of golf tees and related items. Sand molds, tee boxes, tee bags, tee advertisement, patents for tees and literally thousands of antique tees of every size, shape and material. His collection is so extensive that he now finds it difficult to locate anything he doesn’t already own.

“At this point,” he said, “I come across something new only once or twice a year.”

With the knowledge he’s gained through collecting, Crist has also become an expert in identifying and appraising unique old tees. He often is contacted by dealers who are in need of his expertise.

His 40 years of amassing the world’s largest collection of golf tees has earned Crist an apt name for which he is known within golf collecting circles – “Mr. Tee.”