Getting His Ducks in a Row
craftsman transforms golf clubs into waterfowl
Other than one of them “accidentally” winding up in the nearest water hazard, it’s hard to see an obvious connection between a golf club and a duck. One local artist, however, has found a perfect marriage between the two, and his business is providing unique handcrafted gifts for golf and hunting enthusiasts alike.
“The bottom line is: It’s a duck head on a golf club. I can’t take myself too seriously.” – Jim Kasmarek
It’s not surprising that a guy who decided against using his own nickname in branding his new business – “too pretentious” – was a bit reluctant to become the subject of a feature story. After all, he claimed, it begs the question, “Who the heck is Kazz?” But as luck would have it, once you get Jim Kasmarek talking about the antique golf club-turned-duck creations of his Wood Duck Nation LLC, a second interview session just may be in order, along with some tissues for dabbing the tears of laughter.
The cozy space of Kazz’s woodworking shop on the north side of Eau Claire provided a great escape from the first snowstorm of the season, and the high school history teacher had many lessons to share.
After a 32-year career in the Eau Claire schools, 2016 will bring retirement for Kazz, but not any sort of slowdown. The contagiously energetic world history and philosophy teacher, basketball and tennis coach, published author, grandfather, and avid hunter has no intention of sitting still anytime soon. Instead, he has some pretty big plans for his already successful artisan business, Wood Duck Nation.
Kazz creates one-of-a kind ducks from antique wooden clubs by carving and carefully attaching detailed duck heads to the club heads, which just so happens to be shaped like ducks. The idea came to him sort by a fluke, after the death of his father six years ago. Upon finding a similar design in his dad’s belongings, Kazz wondered if he could make one himself.
“I had spent years working for my dad’s construction business, so I had a base of knowledge about using tools and working with wood,” he explains. “There are people out there making these guys, but frankly I’ve been a bit offended by the heads. I’m a duck hunter, and I have to say, the heads were just bad. I wanted to make them look real.”
For help in refining the heads, Kazz found the experts he needed in Memorial High School art instructors Dan Ingersoll and Matt Palm, who were happy to oblige. With their help, five basic designs have emerged that work for many species Kazz creates: the wood duck, mallard, canvasback, widgeon, and loon.
A man of perpetual motion, Kazz was not quite content with “hobby” status for this newfound talent and almost immediately set out to discover the marketability of his ducks and the options for building a viable business. Mission number one, and Kazz’s wife Jill agreed, was to get out of the garage.
“I really have to thank Dave Morley, who got me off the mean streets and into his space in Banbury. That’s when I began to see the real potential for growing this into an actual business,” he said.
In 2014, Kazz and Wood Duck Nation became a part of the Chippewa Valley Innovation Center. Located on Eau Claire’s north side, the CVIC’s mission is to provide space along with managerial and technical support to new entrepreneurial businesses for a period of five years.
The first step in growth for Wood Duck Nation was to move to an automated process in the carving. With Mike Kline and CBR Designs at the CVIC, Kazz can now create 30 heads a week (up from about five) through the use of CNC machinery using Kazz’s molds to create the basic shape of the heads in minutes.
While Kazz does all the detail carving himself, as well as the essential step of attaching and shaping the head to the refinished club, the rough head shape is sanded and partially painted by a small staff of high school and college students he has brought on.
Previously marketing at art galleries in several states, Kazz has opted to rely on only the summer art fair on Thursdays in Rochester, Minn., and his online outlets for sales. Available on his website, Etsy, and Handmade on Amazon, the ducks range in price from $75 to $95. The history teacher really enjoys the exact story behind each club – the manufacturer, the golfer behind the name – and each duck comes with all that back story. Personalized ducks, hens, and specialty ducks like the “Wedding Ducks” are available by request.
This Korean wedding tradition is particularly special for Kazz. A pair of ducks are given to the couple, along with a set of instructions for how the positioning of the ducks is meant to symbolize harmony or discord in the marriage.
“Believe me, if there’s something out there meant to portray a happy marriage, I’m your guy,” he admits, while crediting his wife with the patience and encouragement he needed to grow this idea.
At the end of this spring, retirement papers in hand, Kazz will “really dig into this thing,” as he put it, and look into ways to expand sales. Initial thoughts are of golf and hunting resorts and of course some more vigorous online marketing.
The word is out there already, however, as evidenced by a recent request from an associate of Arnold Palmer, who wrote requesting seven ducks created from Palmer clubs for the legend himself. “Arnie’s Army,” as Kazz named the flock, were shipped off to Mr. Palmer with a note from the artist stating how his father had been a huge fan and would be pleased to know his son’s creations were in those hands.
But lest you think Jim Kasmarek might let something like that go to his head, have no fear.
“The bottom line is: It’s a duck head on a golf club. I can’t take myself too seriously,” he said, chuckling.
Fame and fortune may await, but for Kazz, it’s all water off a duck’s back.