Lakewood Ranch residents open their homes to golfing "Don Quixotes."
Lakewood National's Jim Jorgensen was hoping to see another side of professional golfers when he invited the Web.com Tour's Chad Ramey to stay at his house during last year's LECOM Suncoast Classic.
However, he didn't expect to find Ramey doing stretching exercises on a mat in his living room at 6 a.m. before the first day of the tournament.
"It gives you a perspective of how extremely serious they are," said Jorgensen, who has a three-bedroom home just off the No. 18 green with his wife, Ruth. "These are Don Quixotes chasing their dreams."
Like most Lakewood National residents, Jim and Ruth Jorgensen received a note from tournament organizers to see if they would be willing to host a professional golfer or a caddy during the week of the tournament. They said it wasn't a hard decision.
Ruth Jorgensen said the couple had hosted high school band kids years ago when they lived in Somerset, Pa. They also hosted an adult from Africa when their local high school hosted an international conference.
"We've never had a bad situation," she said.
The tournament sends a committee member to each resident who volunteers to provide housing to make sure it is a proper environment. The Jorgensens had a spare bedroom and a den with a pull-out bed. Ramey got the bedroom and his caddy landed the pull-out.
"The players are extremely grateful," Jorgensen said. "They are facing financial problems with a lot of out-of-pocket expenses."
Ramey earned $124,460 last season with a tie for second at the Pinnacle Bank Championship in Omaha, Neb., being his highest finish. He didn't accumulate enough earnings to make the jump to the PGA Tour. This year's LECOM Suncoast Classic, now a Korn Ferry Tour event, runs Feb. 13-16.
Jim and Kate Coseo of Lakewood National hosted golfers Wade Binfield ($96,460 last season) and Justin Lower ($106,327) and they were thrilled to do it.
"We love the game and we embraced this opportunity," Kate Coseo said. "We sat around and they told us about birdies and bogies. We treated these kids like they were our own. We support their dream."
Beyond meeting the pros, Jim Coseo had other motivations for hosting them.
"We are very proud of our community and our golf course," he said.
Bob and Sue NieDerpruem, who also live in Lakewood National, hosted two players at the inaugural LECOM Suncoast Classic and one, Chris Baker, earned his PGA Tour card.
"We told them when they left last year that we didn't want to see them back," Bob NieDerpruem said with a laugh. "T.J. didn't make it (to the PGA Tour), but he is doing well. We are going in March to the Valspar (the PGA event in Palm Harbor) to see Baker."
All the hosts have kept in contact with the golfers, sending them emails with encouragement when they have played well. They said the golfers always write notes back to them.
"We developed a good friendship," Jim Jorgensen said. "Chad missed the cut by one stroke last year and he was visibly upset. But he was very gracious."
Their act of kindness also paid off in a different way. They were attending a Pittsburgh Pirates exhibition game and they saw one of the players, like Ramey, had gone to Mississippi State. They approached the player and asked if he knew Chad Ramey. It turns out they were best friends in college.
That player was Pirates' starting second baseman Adam Frazier. They developed another friendship, and eventually bought a Frazier bobblehead they presented to Ramey.
"They is so much upside to doing this and so little downside," Jim Jorgensen said of providing the players and caddies with a place to stay. "It also gets you more connected to the event."
All the players and caddies are busy so they don't need to be entertained.
"We appreciated their privacy and that they are busy," Jim Jorgensen said. "We didn't want to distract them."
Host families often either take their players out to dinner or cook them a nice meal. The Jorgensens took Ramey and his caddy to Full Belly Stuffed Burgers in Bradenton because they had just come from a tournament in South America and wanted a burger.
The NieBerpruems cooked meals and set out juice and fruit.
"They didn't want anything extravagant," Bob NieDerpruem said. "They had just come from Colombia and when they walked into our house, their suitcases were packed with dirty clothes. That first day all they did was laundry but it was like they had died and gone to heaven."
Bob NieDerpruem said its easy to see their dedication.
"The cars they drove had bugs all over them from all the miles," he said. "They were grateful to have a comfortable bed. If it wasn't for us, they would be paying $100 a night.
"And it was fun to hear somebody who plays the game for a living. These guys can hit it 210 yards with a 6 iron, then hit the next shot that is so delicate you need a surgeon's hands."
Lakewood National residents Wayne and Pat Ryan agreed it was a rewarding experience. They hosted a caddy who didn't mind having a few drinks with them.
Did they have any stories to share?
"Not that we could tell," Wayne Ryan said.
They will offer their home again for this year's tourney.
"Our kids wanted to come at this same time and we said, 'No way,'" said Pat Ryan. "We have no room."