Berry marks 40 years volunteering with THE PLAYERS

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THE PLAYERS Championship has been at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass for four decades, and Clare Berry has been a part of it the entire time.

For most of those 40 years, she has been the committee chair for player services and has formed lifelong friendships with many players’ families.

A dedicated volunteer, Berry is also broker and owner of Berry & Co. Real Estate where she keeps very busy. Her secret for juggling both comes down to effective time management.

“I work more maybe the week before,” she said. “And I don’t schedule certain things the week of.”

Because Berry is one of those people you can count on year in and year out, it’s difficult to imagine a time when she was not there to ensure players got the attention they needed.

FROM THE START

The origins of Berry’s involvement actually predate the PGA TOUR’s creation of the tournament in 1974 under then-commissioner Deane Beman. Berry’s mother was a volunteer for the Greater Jacksonville Open, working in player transportation.

“I grew up with a mother who, the week of the tournament, was busy doing volunteer work,” recalled Berry. “She had fun, and it was for a good cause.”

Berry’s turn to volunteer came one day as THE PLAYERS transitioned to the Stadium Course. A friend who was working for then-tournament director John Tucker knew of Berry’s work in the newspaper industry and called to ask her to write press releases for the tournament.

Berry agreed.

“They found plenty for me to do pretty fast,” she said, laughing. In addition to the press releases, she created a monthly newsletter for the volunteers. It was a lot of work in those days, with a great deal of typing, pasting and copying — everything being done by hand.

During her second year of volunteering, she had an unforgettable experience, one that arose simply because she was new.

A Jacksonville TV station was planning a live show about the tournament, and the host wanted to interview a couple of volunteers — one of them new. Berry was selected.

After the show, she and her husband stopped at 7-Eleven, where Berry wanted to buy a Heath ice-cream bar. Waiting to check out, she happened to turn around and see golf legend Ben Crenshaw standing behind her in line.

She wished him well going into the tournament and then he asked her, “Didn’t I just see you on TV?”

It was her turn to be the celebrity.

“He was very kind, as you would think he would be,” she said. “He said, ‘Thank you so much for doing what you do. We appreciate you.’”

After a couple of years on that first committee, she moved to admissions, where she was quickly named co-chair. Then, after a couple of more years, she was asked to chair the player services committee. She accepted and has been doing that for 36 years.

READY TO HELP

Player services is the committee that works most directly with the stars of the tournament. At the heart of the committee’s mission is taking care of all the details of the players’ stay so that they can focus on what’s happening out on the golf course.

“We just try to think creatively of things that will make them as comfortable as possible with no hassle,” Berry said. “We try to make it easy for them.”

That means being prepared for any request, no matter how unexpected.

If a player is running a fever, a doctor is brought in. If someone has a toothache, a dentist is found. If a gift must be purchased, volunteers stand ready to recommend places to shop.

Once, a player dropped his cell phone and shattered the screen. Berry and her team scrambled and found a repair business in Palm Valley.

In the days when the tournament was held in May, it overlapped Mother’s Day. But the players are busy running from place to place while on tour, and getting to a store to purchase a card was not necessarily on their “to do” lists.

“A friend of mine from my Rotary club worked for Hallmark Cards,” said Berry. “And he was nice enough to get me some Mother’s Day cards.”

Every year, the committee would have a stack of cards ready for players to send to their mothers and wives.

When dinner reservations are needed, Berry and her three-person team make the arrangements. And planning ahead would prove essential to their success.

“I came up with a plan called Free ‘Til Three,” recalled Berry. “I would go to a number of restaurants locally and say, ‘Will you hold tables until three o’clock for me every day?’”

One of the committee’s most important responsibilities is making sure arriving players get properly registered for the tournament. Berry’s team ensures that everyone’s paperwork is in and finalized.

Players’ families often accompany them on tour, and the volunteers quickly befriend the parents, wives and children.

Once, a player’s mother surprised Berry with a hand-knitted scarf.

“That was just super sweet,” Berry said. “She just arrived and said, ‘I made this for you. I knew your favorite color was blue.’”

POINT OF PRIDE

Berry called the annual set-up of the tournament and all that goes with it “amazing.”

“Just to see the infrastructure emerge from nothing to boom — all the tents and chalets and the food courts and all of these things — is just amazing,” she said.

Volunteering with the tournament is important to Berry and her family. Her son received his 10-year pin the same year she marked her 35th year.

She said she especially enjoys seeing everyone again each year and being involved in something that benefits the community. THE PLAYERS provides critical support to nonprofit organizations throughout Northeast Florida. It recently celebrated reaching the $100 million milestone in local charitable giving.

“The TOUR has been a great support to our little Ponte Vedra Beach community, as well as the greater Jacksonville area, helping so many worthy organizations grow and prosper,” Berry said. “And in my small way, I contribute to those dollars that help those who need it.”

In addition, Berry said, “It's pretty cool that the global HQ is in our town!”

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