Jim Kleck has been the captain of the storytellers program at TPC Sawgrass for the past six years but will be moving to the West Coast of Florida later this year to be closer to family. Kleck has enjoyed his time with the storytellers from the stories he has shared to the people he has met and the money he has helped raise for local charities through the initiative.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was raised in Ohio in a small farming community and grew up a part of a big family with six kids, where I was the second to the youngest.
I went to college at Oberlin College and Defiance College and the University of Toledo and got a master’s degree in microbiology and went to work for a major pharmaceutical company and spent 34 years with them.
Along the way, before I even graduated from college, I got married and we’ve had two children and now I have four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
All of them have decided to move to the west coast of Florida, and my wife and I will be moving that way soon as well.
What led you to get involved with the TPC storytellers program?
During my lifetime I’ve had a lot of volunteer jobs as being part of the corporate structure and everything that goes with that through Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts and various nonprofit hospital boards, including working as a volunteer with Mayo Clinic for 10 years after I retired.
Part of that was volunteering for the PLAYERS Tournament for five years when we got down here, where I would work on hole No. 5.
And then I was introudced to the storytellers program and I’ve now been a storyteller for the past 12 years and the captain of the storytellers for the past six years.
What does the storytellers program entail?
There are 51 storytellers, and let me tell you, that it’s the best volunteer job I’ve ever had in my whole life.
It’s very rewarding because you get to meet people from all over the world and I really hate to leave the job because it is so great.
As the captain, my job is to recruit and train new storytellers and keep them informed of any changes taking place with the clubhouse so that they can incorporate it in their tours.
The storyteller program has really begun to get very well known since it started up in 2007 when the beautiful new clubhouse was built and they wanted to showcase a lot of PLAYERS memorabilia inside it.
It started out with eight storytellers but they soon found that wasn’t enough and we’ve grown to 51 now, which allows us to have a storyteller on duty at the clubhouse every day of the week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
What makes the program so special?
Every year we give tours to more than 7,000 guests from all 50 states and 35 foreign countries, which is data that I keep track of myself.
You get to interact with people from all walks of life and it makes it a highly sought after volunteer job, and every time I go to look for another storyteller, I’ve got about six resumes of those interested.
These storytellers come from all walks of life, as their doctors, lawyers or businesspeople and most of them are retired with 40% of them being female and 60% male, which makes it a neat group.
What are the most rewarding parts about your job?
For some reason golf trivia sticks in the brain for me, so I’ve really developed that over the years, and during COVID we were shut down for five months and my wife talked me into writing a book about the storytellers, so I did.
It’s 113 pages and all about what I know about being a storyteller and being associated with the clubhouse. That’s actually what I use now as my training manual for new storytellers.
You just never know who’s going to walk in and want a tour, and its those conversations that are always fun.
One day I was sitting in the lobby waiting to give tours, and in walked Jason Day, who is one of our winners, and he came over and asked if I had any stories for him.
We sat there and talked for like five minutes while he was waiting for his photographer, so you really get the chance to get up close and personal with a lot of the golfers as well.
What are some of the popular stories that people are most curious about during a tour?
The stories they really gravitate to is the outside tour, where we take people out in a six-seater golf cart and we talk about the No. 16, 17 and 18 holes.
The Island Green at No. 17 is the one that everyone wants to see because it’s the most iconic hole in golf worldwide, so everyone wants to hear the stories associated with it, including how many balls are hit in the water each year.
What are some of the ways the storytellers give back to the community?
One of the real kudos of being a storyteller is the money we’re able to raise, because the tours are free, but we ask our guests to give gratuities at the end of the tour if they enjoyed it and all of that goes toward charities that we select as storytellers.
Most people are very open with their contributions and since 2007 we’ve collected more than $300,000 in gratuities that we’ve turned around and given to charity.
At the end of each year we submit which charities we want to give the money to, and it’s one of the things that the storytellers really like as an opportunity to give back.
What do you enjoy most about living in the North Florida area?
One of the reasons my wife and I moved here is because it’s a very diverse community and we are big supporters of the local symphony, and we have season passes.
It also helps that there are 70 golf courses within a one-hour drive of my house, and we’ve gotten into boating and have had three boats since we moved here.