Volunteer: Friends, charity and golf key to 50-year run

Walt Courtney celebrates milestone at The Players

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Gold is the gift to mark a 50-year anniversary.

Walt Courtney says he's already a rich man thanks to the friends and memories he's shared over his half-century as a volunteer at The Players Championship.

Courtney started contributing his time and energy before the tournament reached its current level of popularity and status.

Beginning at Deerwood Country Club and following two moves to Sawgrass Country Club and TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Courtney has been helping his community with a giving heart.

Here's a conversation Courtney had reflecting on his time at The Players:

Q. As a volunteer at THE PLAYERS Championship, just what does the tournament mean for you overall, throughout the 50 years?

A. First of all, I'm happy to be able to give money to charity, plus the fact that you meet a bunch of neat people that you get to be buddies with. However, in the years I've been down here I hardly ever see anybody other than here, like in the city, going out for dinner or something.  Every once in a while you see somebody, but normally you don't.  So the camaraderie is just here at TPC Sawgrass.

Q. What has been most memorable PLAYERS moment?

A. The one that sticks out most in my mind is one year I was out on the putting green and Davis Love came by.  And he looked at my putter and he said to me, "You want to sell that putter?"  And I said to him, "You don't have enough money."  He said, "What?  What do you mean I don't have enough money?"  I said, "It was my dad's."  Before I could say anything else, "Never mind, that's a good deal, you just keep that thing."

Q. Any other player interactions over the years?

A. Well, yeah, when it used to be at Deerwood, especially at Deerwood, and a little bit here, the old time guys would go fishing.  Doing a round of golf, practice round, and then come by and borrow a cart to go fishing, see who could catch the biggest bass. Chi Chi Rodriguez and Lee Trevino, those were the two good guys that stopped in and would talk to you one on one type of stuff.  That was neat. 

Q. How has the tournament changed since it was at Deerwood and then Sawgrass Country Club?

A. There was less pressure.  And I think now it's got a lot of pressure to it.  And of course they want to make it better each year, and that takes some pressure to do that.  It's become a much bigger tournament.

Q. What was the big difference when it moved here to TPC Sawgrass, do you have any memories of that first year?

A. I remember when Dean Beman was out on A1A with a bunch of people and had a golf ball, and was going to hit the ball into the woods.  And he duffed it.  Everybody was cracking up when that happened, because he is a good golfer.

But moving out here to me was like being first class, you know, not that Deerwood wasn't good, but this to me was like we finally made it. 

Q. What keeps bringing you back every year, 50 years in a row?  What is the one thing that keeps bringing you back?

A. I think the people here that work here and the fact that I can't tell you how much I just enjoy coming down here. 

I was just telling my wife this morning if the people down here knew when I started doing my work and what I have to do, they wouldn't believe it, because I live it.  You've got to put the carts in a certain area so you know where they are when someone needs to get one.  And you put them in line where you know who's going to come first, and you're getting it out.  And then you line up just like you want it then they add people to it.  And then you've got to do it over again.  I can't wait every year for THE PLAYERS

Q. Were you out here on the Monday when Hal Sutton beat Tiger, on the 18th.  It was a Monday finish?

A. Let me tell you about that.  The whole time I've been out here I don't believe I've ever seen a golf shot    it's a joy going out there and walking around.  I enjoy being with my guys, playing games and kibitzing, and joking around with each other.  And they all go out and I just stay with my carts.   

Q. Do you have any other family members that have volunteered with you over the years or is it   

A. No, all my kids live in California.  But they'll be here this year.  My two sons are coming, just because it's my 50th year.

Q. What do you look forward to most every year?

A. All year long, I don't get to see a lot of the people who make up THE PLAYERS, so coming back to be around all the volunteers and my friends on my committee is something I look forward to.  I might add that the employees of THE PLAYERS are very congenial and easy to work with, so it's always a pleasure to see them too.

Q. How do you take time away from your job to work the tournament?

A. I am retired now, but for many years I was able to take the week off because I had employers who recognized the impact of the tournament and had no problem allowing me to be a part of it.