Inside the ropes

THE PLAYERS offers ‘dream day’ to five locals

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There is nothing like being at THE PLAYERS, especially for those who love the game of golf, but being inside the ropes takes the experience to another level entirely.

Thanks to the THE PLAYERS Championship and the PGA Tour, locals from five different non-profit organizations will get the opportunity to know what that feels like during the event’s practice round March 9.

The announcement was made by THE PLAYERS 2022 tournament chairman Matt Welch during a special surprise party March 1 at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse.

“All of us can do something good on our own, but when you get 2,000 people (volunteers at this year’s THE PLAYERS) working in the same direction, we can do some great things,” Welch said. “These are the most enjoyable days for us.”

The recipients included Amanda Bussey with Special Olympics Florida, Ava Jones with Dreams Come True, Dominic Clayton with First Tee of North Florida, Leighmar Wilson with Moore-Myers Children’s Fund and Loxley Greensmith with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.

“I’ve been coming out here all these years, but to be inside the ropes and not just in the stands is just so crazy,” Clayton said.

All are golf enthusiasts and enjoy being around the game, which makes their selection even more special.

Clayton is looking forward to having the chance to be close to the players during the practice round and to meet them, especially Tony Finau, who is his favorite golfer.

He has had an interest in golf since an early age and is a member of the Bishop Kenny High School golf team as a freshman. He has been part of the First Tee of North Florida for many of those years.

“I saw my grandpa playing in the backyard one time, and I was only 2, but I remember it looked like fun to just hit the ball,” Clayton said. “I’ve fallen in love with it ever since.”

For Bussey, her love of golf has now come full circle because she was introduced to the game and swung a club for the first time 12 years ago at a clinic sponsored by THE PLAYERS.

She won her first gold medal in golf just one year later and the 37-year-old now has 30 medals from various competitions over the years and recently qualified to represent Florida in the 2022 Special Olympics U.S. Games.

“Anytime that a Special Olympics athlete gets to participate in something like this, just makes them feel good,” said Robin Luck, with the Duval County management team of Special Olympics Florida. “It’s all about inclusion in the community, and this type of event shows them that they are included, and they are special. It really puts a smile on their face.”

Last year 9-year-old Ava Jones dreamt of having a claw machine and Dreams Come True made that dream a reality. However, she had golf on her mind with her dream this year.

“Dreams Come True has been an incredible blessing for our family,” said Kym Jones, Ava’s mom.

A dream connected to THE PLAYERS brings Dreams Come True back to its roots, as the first ever wish they granted was for George Lee, who was battling cystic fibrosis, to play a pro-am with Fred Couples prior to THE PLAYERS Championship in 1984.

Not only did all five recipients get the chance to be inside the ropes as part of the “dream day,” but they each also received a new set of golf clubs to put in their bag.

“Getting a new set of clubs is perfect timing, because Ava has outgrown hers,” Jones said. “She immediately picked up the clubs and said, ‘I want to go play right now.’”

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