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Still Going Strong

Since 1988, Nancy Jackson has been a big part of The ACE Group Classic.

March 2, 2011

By Phil Stambaugh, PGA TOUR Staff

NAPLES, Fla.—Nancy Jackson took a blind leap of faith, and her experience has been not only rewarding for her but for The ACE Group Classic, as well.


Jackson had no idea what she was getting herself into when early in 1988 she answered an ad in the Naples Daily News to be a greens reporter at what was then called the Aetna Challenge, a new tournament and the forerunner for the ACE event.


Prior to signing up as a volunteer for the tournament, Jackson’s involvement in local golf had been minimal. Shortly after moving to Naples in 1966 to be with her grandparents, the Erie, Penn., native got a job as a secretary at Edison College. While at Edison, Jackson knew golf coach Bill Szalay, whose leading player at the time was a young Fuzzy Zoeller.


Jackson would later go on to become a dining room/food and beverage manager at an assisted-living facility in the area. However, for more than two decades, she’s enjoyed taking a one-week break from her regular job to help out for eight hours a day as a tournament volunteer, working in a variety of different capacities. Jackson has no plans to quit anytime soon.


Having just completed a 24th consecutive year helping at the event, she realizes it’s a labor of love, and she still looks forward to the annual stop on the Champions Tour schedule each February. 


When the tournament first came to Southwest Florida in the late 1980s, the Champions Tour counted golf stars like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez among its ranks. Initially, however, Jackson was motivated to become involved in the event by a sense of civic pride. Her longevity at the Naples tournament is similar to Player’s, the tournament’s inaugural champion, who recently made his 23rd career appearance in the event.


“After 24 years, I know so many other volunteers here, and I feel like I’ve contributed so much,” the 65 year old said. “I’m going to continue until I can’t do it anymore.” 


In January, prior to tournament week this year, the tournament honored Jackson as its Volunteer of the Year. The honor, announced during a luncheon at the Seminole Casino in Immokalee for the more than 1,000 volunteers, is something she’ll never forget.


“They asked us all to stand up at the start, and then people sat down when they asked if you’d reached a certain number of years of service. When they hit the 20-year plateau, there was only three of us still standing in the room,” she said. “It was very exciting. I was completely surprised and had no idea I would get this award.”


“We are very thankful to have volunteers like Nancy Jackson who have helped make our tournament such a huge success in Southwest Florida,” The ACE Group Classic Tournament Director Kevin Rooney said. “Her commitment and generous donation of time the past 24 years is remarkable. I’m happy that we are able to recognize her efforts as a small way to say ‘thank you’ for all that she has done for us.”


Jackson’s first volunteer job was as a greens reporter, a job that doesn’t exist today due to improved technology. Her other stints at the tournament have included serving as a walking scorer, standard bearer, golf cart shuttle driver, walking marshal and caddie-bib collector. The most-senior volunteer is now on the volunteer-services committee, and her main function is to coordinate uniform distribution.


“Probably my favorite memory of all is getting to marshal for Arnold Palmer’s group one year. I got to meet him after the round, got his picture and later got an autograph,” Jackson said.


Nancy Jackson wanted to see what it was all about when she volunteered in 1988, and so many in the Naples community are glad she did.


“Everybody works so well together and you feel like a big team. I’ve met so many people. It’s been a very rewarding experience,” she said.


The common sentiment is that she continues lending a hand for 24 more years.  

 

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