Every golf fan is familiar with The PLAYERS Championship, which tees off this week at Pete Dye’s famed TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Indeed, the tournament’s storied history is filled with incredible emotional tales of triumph and defeat. But there’s a different side of the tournament, whose participants don’t share the limelight as The PLAYERS Championship but are equally essential to growing the game of golf.
The Sawgrass Storytellers are a unique and special nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a more vibrant and connected community through golf, all while telling the rich history of The PLAYERS Championship Tournament. They offer complimentary guided tours of TPC Sawgrass, allowing community members and visitors to see some of the most iconic moments in golf history.
The storyteller program is comprised of volunteers who know everything about TPC Sawgrass and The PLAYERS Championship. It is designed to spotlight various stories from golfers of all levels, from beginners to professionals. Each event is an opportunity for members and visitors of TPC Sawgrass to come together to share experiences about the game of golf and its impact on the local area.
The Sawgrass Storytellers provide education and entertainment and give back to the local community. All proceeds from the guided tours are donated to local charities. Since its founding, the Sawgrass Storytellers have donated more than $250,000 to local charities in Ponte Vedra Beach. The Storytellers are committed to creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for golfers of all ages and backgrounds.
The 19th Hole Magazine recently conducted an in-depth Q&A interview with Jim Kleck, Captain of the TPC Sawgrass Storytellers. Here we present a deeper insight into the organization’s mission and day-to-day procedures:
19TH: How did the group come about?
JK: The storyteller program came about in 2007 upon opening the new clubhouse built between 2006 and the 2007 PLAYERS tournament. The new clubhouse was built in 11.5 months and has 77,000 sq. ft. of floor space under A/C. When the new clubhouse was under design by the PGA TOUR, an individual that worked for the TOUR named Billy Dettlaff came up with the idea of adorning the new clubhouse with memorabilia from the previous PLAYERS Championships and having “storytellers” conducting tours to guests that visited TPC Sawgrass.
Below is a section from my book, “A Golf Experience Like Nowhere Else,” to further talk about the role of a storyteller.
– Jim Kleck, Captain of the TPC Sawgrass Storytellers
What is a TPC Sawgrass Storyteller
A TPC Sawgrass storyteller is a volunteer that donates 12 to 16 hours a month, taking guests on tours of the clubhouse and THE PLAYERS Stadium Course, home of THE PLAYERS Championship. These volunteers come from all walks of life, doctors, lawyers, business executives, homemakers, business owners, ministers, TV broadcasters, etc. They all share one passion—the history of golf, THE PLAYERS Championship, and the PGA TOUR’s commitment to charitable giving.
Storytellers have been honored throughout history for their learning and perpetuating the history of their culture before the written word. A storyteller is a particular person who can inform, educate and entertain those with whom they interact on tour. To the “best knowledge” of this storyteller, we are the only golf course with storytellers associated with a golf club. Our current ranks of storytellers total 48 diverse individuals (60% male / 40% female) that embrace the history of THE PLAYERS Championship with a passion. Our mission is “To serve as ambassadors, bringing to life the history of THE PLAYERS Championship, TPC Sawgrass, and the PGA TOUR for members and guests. In doing so, we will exemplify the mission of the PGA TOUR and THE PLAYERS Championship Charities, Inc. in our community by giving back—the heart of the PGA TOUR.”
Storytellers are “on duty” in the lobby of the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours are offered at no cost, on the hour between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. A storyteller relates stories about the clubhouse and its contents, highlighting the history of TPC Sawgrass, its courses, and THE PLAYERS Championship, as well as the game’s legends, historical golf moments, and significant contributors to golf.
The storyteller also will show guests the 16th, 17th, & 18th holes on THE PLAYERS Stadium Course. The entire tour takes approximately one hour or 20 minutes for an “outside” tour. Our goal is to make the clubhouse and elsewhere vividly come to life through the displays and how we relate our stories. We consider ourselves very lucky to be storytellers because we meet guests from all over the world. We give tours to over 7,000 guests annually from all 50 states and no fewer than 30 foreign countries around the globe. TPC Sawgrass has become a “bucket list” item to do in your lifetime with its magnificent clubhouse, Stadium course, and unique history of being the biggest purse in golf and has the deepest field of PGA TOUR players of any tournament worldwide. The property is also the Global Home of the PGA TOUR.
After you take a tour with us, we hope you will have some stories of your own to share with your friends and family.
19TH: What appealed to you to become a volunteer with the Sawgrass Storytellers?
JK: I started working as a volunteer Marshall for the PLAYERS for five (5) years, where I met a storyteller who told me about the program. I submitted a resume and was selected to join the ranks of the storytellers 10 years ago. The aspect of meeting and talking to people from all over this country and the world attracted me to the program and our support of local charities through the gratuities we receive for our free tours. Five (5) years ago, I was selected to become the captain of the storytellers. My responsibilities include scheduling, training, choosing new storytellers, and updating the group monthly via email concerning any changes.
19TH: How does one become a member? Is there some exam required to be a member? If so, what does it entail?
JK: For scheduling and coverage seven days a week with storytellers at the clubhouse, I keep our staffing of storytellers between 46 and 50. We do not “advertise” for storyteller positions; it is all by word of mouth and recommendations made by current storytellers. It has become the most highly sought-after volunteer position in the area since I receive 3 to 4 resumes for every opening I need to fill. The last time I needed to select five (5) new storytellers, I had over 24 resumes. The process is that I choose the best five resumes and conduct interviews. I look for their love of the game of golf, vocal presence, why they desire to be a storyteller, and how good they are at telling me “A story of their life.” When selected, they must work three 4-hour shifts monthly to maintain their status as storytellers. Their training is a four-hour session with me—titled” Learning How to Drink Out of a Firehose”/ reading my book “A Golf Experience Like Nowhere Else” / reading Billy Dettlaff’s book published in 2006 “A Storyteller’s Guide” / reading Adam Schupak’s book published in 2011 “Deane Beman, Golf’s Driving Force.” During the first two (2) months on the job, they will “shadow train” following other experienced storytellers on tours, after which they are usually ready to” fly on their own.”
19TH: What is the scope of activities that you perform?
JK: My responsibilities include scheduling, training, selecting new storytellers, and updating the group monthly via email regarding any changes.
19TH: Please take us through a typical day.
JK: On the third Monday of each month, all the storytellers sign up for their three shifts for the following month. Their choice of shifts is Monday thru Sunday of each month, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. / 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. / 12 to 4 p.m. / 1 to 5 p.m. We schedule four storytellers to work each day of the week. Tours are given at the top of the hour (9 / 10 /11 / 12 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4). Tour group range between 2 to 6 guests. The storytellers are stationed in the main lobby of the clubhouse to greet arriving guests with “welcome to TPC Sawgrass, home of the PLAYERS, is there something I can help you with?” If the guests are there for a tour, a storyteller on duty will introduce themselves and ask them where they are from and how much time they have for a tour that typically takes one (1) hour. Some guests only have enough time to take the tour to see #16 / #17 / #18, which takes approx. 20 minutes.
The storyteller for the entire tour will relate the history of the PLAYERS tournament, the building of the Stadium golf course out of a swamp by Pete Dye, pointing out all the paintings and what they depict from the tournament history, other memorabilia located throughout the clubhouse (PLAYERS library, watercolor paintings of all our winners, golf clubs donated by previous winners, PLAYERS trophy, important stories about #16, #17, #18 during the history of the tournament). Usually, before the tour starts, we tell the guests the tour is free, but we, as storytellers, donate all the gratuities we receive from tours to charities we selected each year in December. Typically, we receive between $10 to $20 gratuity for our tours. The gratuities are placed in sealed envelop, signed by the storyteller with the info of how many guests they had on the tour and where the guests called home and given to the clubhouse pro to put in the safe and later deposited with the PGA TOUR for safe keeping until the end of the year when a group of selected storytellers picks the charities we will support. During a typical day, each storyteller will give 3 or 4 tours.
19TH: Who are some of the charities that have benefitted, and why them?
JK: Let me start by saying that since 2007, the storyteller group of TPC Sawgrass has donated $263,000 to local small charities. We have been averaging between $25,000 to $35,000 per year in recent years. We ask storytellers (7) to volunteer for the STAAC committee (our awards committee) each year. The criteria for selecting the three or four 5013C nonprofits each year are as follows: We typically choose 501C-3 qualified nonprofits who serve First Responders, Military, Seniors, or Youth in our 5-county North Florida area. We hope to find smaller organizations where our award will significantly impact their operations and avoid those already funded by the PGA TOUR or with substantial national funding. Some of the charities supported in the past are the Veterans Council of St. Johns County, Concerns for Police Survivors, Mission House, and Port in a Storm.
19TH: How old are you, and what would you say is the age range of volunteers?
JK: I am 79 years old; the average age of the storytellers is in the neighborhood of 72, with a range from 55 to 85. Since 2007 to date there have been 126 individuals serving as storytellers that have volunteered 81,100 hours to TPC Sawgrass.
19TH: Do you have a favorite memory in your work as part of the Sawgrass Storytellers?
JK: My favorite memories are meeting previous PLAYERS champions like Davis Love III, Jason Day, etc.—but especially giving a tour to Freddy Funk and Hal Sutton (and guests) and having them tell me stories about their careers.