Tag Archives: Sawgrass

Where does a dream come from?

Where does a dream come from?

When a dream becomes a reality it is a humbling experience. Today I feel as if I am floating on a cloud of gratitude. For a year and a half we have built a pyramid stone by stone beginning with a meeting of minds to discuss an idea. We lured them to our home with a promise of pizzas from the wood burning oven, craft beer on draft and plenty of cabernet to get the conversations going. What resulted was far more than we could have ever imagined.

Tommy had always wanted to throw a golf tournament on the golf course that we have viewed every morning for over twenty four years and one of the most famous in professional golf, the TPC Stadium course at Sawgrass. With each think tank meeting a team was forged. Ideas came from everyone, contacts were contacted and the event began to take form. We set up a meeting with the appropriate TPC staff and received their blessing. We asked our long time friend if he would want to join us once again. He gave a positive response with no hesitation. Our legal expert and a JTTF board member set out to form the Funk-Zitiello Foundation a new non profit, our JTTF marketing team began to work on the creative for the event. A web site was developed and social media began to promulgate. A team of over 80 volunteers was assembled. We were on our way to organizing a first class event at a first class venue.

However, before I go any further there is an element of the process that must be revealed.

Where does a dream begin? How is it born and how does it grow like ripples on the water? This dream came from a place deep within Tommy and I. We believe that God tugged gently at our hearts. We know He is the reason for our team, for our creative and crazy plans and for success beyond our wildest imagination.
But, then it became not just our dream, it became the quest for others who heard about it. We believe it was all God’s plan.

When we look back over time we can see His work behind the scenes. Not just the past few years, but for our entire lives. Why did we move to this place we call heaven on earth all those many years ago? Why was it the next home being built belonged to a striving pro golfer? Was all of this by chance? How about that hard working golfer pulling off a win at potentially the fifth major golf tournament on the PGA Tour calendar and it happened just months after a young high school senior suffered a near fatal spinal cord injury on the football field. How did he meet JT Townsend? How did Fred and Sharon Funk and his band of golf fans, the Funk’s Punks join together to rally a community to build that young man a home so his family could live under one roof? How did I survive a cancer that is statistically a death sentence within one year? You just can’t make this stuff up. God was and is always in control. And, His plans are perfect.

It was not an easy task putting this event together. It took a team and it took a lot of work and worry and so many conversations I can’t begin to count them. But, in another way it was simple really. All we had to do was tell our story. Those who have been touched by something so raw and devastating were caught hook, line and sinker, many had been touched by pancreas cancer or had seen the work of JT Townsend and his foundation helping others who found themselves in the same position as he was, disabled and with no hope of getting the things they needed.

When we began we had a budget that I felt was aggressive and maybe unattainable. But, I knew we had to make everyone on our team understand what we wanted to achieve. Just a few weeks before the event we were not even close to our number and I heard discouragement in Tommy’s voice. I assured him, this was not OUR event, the perfect people would be there and the perfect number would be achieved. We just needed to have faith and keep putting one foot in front of another. And we did by achieving not only that lofty budget, but going over it by almost twenty percent.

We were also concerned about holding the event during the rainy season in North Florida. The showers had appeared each day for a month, a nice drenching rain to water the flowers and keep the hot days humid and sustain our natural beauty. But, rain could potentially shut down an outdoor event. Again, I turned to my faith and declared the day would be perfect because this is His event not ours. And, it was a perfect morning with not a cloud in the sky as the JT Townsend Gospel Choir sang praises on the hill overlooking the golfers as they warmed up on the driving range.

The JT Townsend Memorial Gospel Choir

But, there was one more God wink that probably came from our beloved JT at near conclusion of the golf tournament. Fred Funk, who had never hit a hole-in-one on TPC Stadium Course’s most photographed and feared hole #17 did just that. Not only did he do it that day, he did it right when Tommy, his son and his father and his best friend were on the tee, a group of diehard golf fans who as Funk’s Punks had followed Fred for twenty five years of his career. Everyone could hear the cheers throughout the course and knew something wonderful had happened. And it did.

What has been confirmed to me is that when God is involved we just need to listen for his next instruction. We need to place our complete faith in Him and allow each piece to fall into place. He will never disappoint.

What is your dream waiting to come true? Do you possess the faith you need to make it a reality?

The crowd erupts as Fred hits a hole in one

“With God all things are possible” Mark 10:27

Judi Zitiello, Sunshine, Carmen Townsend, Tommy Zitiello, Precious Townsend

The sponsors who made this event possible. Thank you all

Seven Mile Drive

Seven Mile Drive

Seven Mile Drive...fall in love every time I drive up the hill


The golf cart rambled past wild southern magnolias and fan-like palmetto palms of deep Florida brush as the slightly feminine shirt-and-tied realtor escorted us along the fairway of the golf course pointing to the individual lot numbers painted on the white wooden posts announcing each successive property line.

“You can get a great view of the TPC Clubhouse along this fairway”, he offered as he pointed to his left toward the 70’s style cedar building with its immense roof sloping toward the ground. You could almost see foursomes seated at tables by the large windows enjoying their cool drafts and club sandwiches as they watched the golfers tee it up from the perfectly manicured driving range.

“Now, you would always to be replacing windows when golfers missed the fairway from this point “ commented Tom as we began the process of selecting the perfect lot on which to build our dream home. “Probably best to choose one on the tee box or the green.”

It was 1993 and I had agreed to transfer from Palm Harbor on the West Coast of Florida to Ponte Vedra Beach, a sleepy private beach community. We were considering lots in The Players Club at Sawgrass, just a short bike ride to the golden shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

The move would mean splitting up the family for the first time. We had been married for ten years and our children, Scott, age 23, my son from a previous marriage, adopted by Tom shortly after our marriage, and Louis age 7 and Lindsay, 6 would be splitting up for the first time. Scott had recently married Blake, his high school love and would be staying behind in our condo. The four-hour car ride seemed a perfect distance from the newlyweds. But, it would be a huge change non-the-less.

We first decided on a beautiful lot with a view of the green at the end of the tenth hole on Dye’s Valley Course of the TPC at Sawgrass. As we headed back in the golf cart toward the car that was parked in a vacant lot where the small wood and cedar-shingled turn-stand was located between the first hole and the tenth, the realtor laughed and said, “This first lot is the largest on the street, but it would be terrible to have to deal with all of the cars parking here every year during tournament. We call it the dog lot” (The Players Championship at Sawgrass) Tom asked the price of the lot. It was substantially lower than the lot we were considering. We said our goodbyes and assured him we would give him our decision soon, got back into our car to return to the Marriott where we were staying to discuss our lot selection and dream of our new life in Ponte Vedra Beach.

Back at the hotel we discussed the pros and cons of the lot. The golf course takes a turn to the east just beyond the green of ten where we were considering building. This would enable us to see the activity on the green AND the tee and fairway of hole eleven. That was indeed a plus. Then, my husband, in his wisdom threw out an idea. “The lot next to that vacant lot and the turn stand is almost half the cost. That would mean we could build a larger house.” We had been pre-approved for a mortgage of a specific amount and we were trying to stay within a budget for the project. We spent the evening in happy conversation contemplating our decision and awoke with the plan we both agreed upon.

In the morning we contacted Jerry Zyski owner of Pinnacle Homes, the custom builder Tom and I had selected to build our dream home. We told him what we were intending to do. He told us we would qualify for his builder discount if we contracted with him to build the house. We set up an appointment and were excited we were finally making concrete decisions. Meeting Jerry Zyski would prove to be a key step to unlocking our dreams for a future on the First Coast AND the builder discount reduced the cost of the lot even further. Could this really be happening?

Months before, back in Palm Harbor, when the plan began to unfold for our move to the east coast Tom had enticed me with a promise. After all, I was leaving my dream job in Tampa as the Director of Training for Ford Consumer Finance’s Tampa Division. There were only four divisions in the country, so my responsibilities were great. It would be a huge sacrifice to transfer to Jacksonville and take a lesser position. Tom’s promise was this; If you will leave your dream job, I will build you your dream house.” That certainly got my attention.

We both agreed we did not want a “cookie cutter” typical stucco Florida home. Since we both hail from the north, we tend to lean more toward traditional architecture. We shared our love of the two story clapboard homes in Southern Living Magazine and sent off for “The Hometown Collection”, a set of 20 house plans and renderings. The day the large envelope arrived, Tom immediately browsed the collection. That evening, when I arrived home he asked me to look at the collection and choose my favorite. I spread the 20 pages on the floor and carefully considered the pros and cons of each one. Once I had settled on one, I brought it to him. “That is the one I liked.” he said. We sent off for the blue prints and he got on the phone to search out a custom builder.

Willow Bend by Stephen Fuller

After contacting the realtor, I had a list of five custom builders for the area. Tom got on the phone and we faxed our plans to several of them. After much discussion back and forth we negotiated a price per square foot, we contracted with Jerry Zyski.

Seventeen years ago last April 15th, we moved into our dream house. That day I broke out in hives having to pay our quarterly estimate to the IRS and close on this house. We had absolutely no business building a house like this. And, when I opened my eyes the first morning in my new bedroom I was stunned by the view outside my undraped window. I heard a groundskeeper for the TPC whistling as he rearranged the tee markers and readied the tee box for the day. I turned to Tom and said….”What have we done?”

After seventeen years, I still hear the same groundkeeper whistle every morning. It is quite amazing. And I still get goose bumps when I think of what we did.

God had a plan for us. He is in the house. The changes made in our lives are certain proof that His hand was in this every step of the way and still is to this day. So many blessings have come from our move here. We were able to meet Fred and Sharon Funk and eventually JT Townsend and so many more wonderful friends like Pat and Michele and Lisa and Barry and so many more. I joined Christian Women’s Club and then came the prayer coffees and bible studies right here in this house. Tom and I agree we are where we are supposed to be. We give Him all the glory every day of our lives.