by Fred Seely
For a decade, Charlene Shirk brought Jacksonville the news as a reporter and anchor for Ch. 12/25. Now, she’s part of the news-making world.
Shirk moved into a new career Jan. 2, leaving behind her anchor desk and reporting duties to take the newly-created job of director of community relations for The Players Championship.
“The job description is a work in progress,” she said, sitting in the same Ponte Vedra Beach building that houses the PGA Tour’s executives. “So am I. I’m still trying to find my way around this office. It’s a wonderful opportunity. I’m so lucky to be here.”
Shirk doesn’t play golf or live on a golf course. But, learning to play could be an asset when you are part of the world’s foremost golf organization.
“I guess I’ll have to learn to play the game,” she said. ‘I’m a pretty good athlete. I can do it.”
She said the rigors of television — and the nearly-daily dose of bad news — had started to produce a burnout.
“I went to work praying ‘Please don’t let anyone die today,’” she said, hoping that she wouldn’t be standing at yet another crime scene to feed television’s “bleed and lead” mentality. “You see what it does to people. You see the faces of the victim’s family. And you take those images home with you. You can’t forget them.
“I thought it was time to look for something else.”
Shirk’s passion, she said, was community work. A television personality is flooded with requests to participate in charity events and Shirk said she loved it. She emceed dozens of events “and I almost became a public relations advocate for charities. I really love working with them.”
“Some people think that’s a grind,” she said. “I think of it as helping people and it’s one way I can help.”
It was at one of those charity events last year that she sat next to a PGA Tour official and shared the thought that she was looking for something else. Her contract with Ch. 12/25 was due to expire and she wanted to see what else was out there.
The official, Laura Brown, took the thought back to 112 TPC Blvd. Many knew the perky Shirk only through the TV set but, obviously, were impressed with what they had seen — a bright face with a big smile.
Shirk continued her weekend anchor and weekday reporting duties while starting the lengthy interview process with the Tour. She said she had second thoughts about leaving her career, which included 10 years at Ch. 12/25 along with two each in Ft. Smith, Ark., and Tulsa. (“I had to pay my dues,” she said.) But there was the reality of having established female anchors Donna Hicken and Jeannie Blaylock above her at the “First Coast News” stations and more years of street reporting loomed.
Her former boss, Ch. 12/25 General Manager Ken Tonning, wishes her well.
“She’s got tons of talent,” he said. “We hate to lose her, but we’re very pleased for her.”
Now, facing the cameras each day is in her past.
“I have a chance to work in an area that I have passion,” said Shirk. “This job puts me with people in the community.”
She’ll work with the local charities affiliated with the Tour and the Players, and also assist Players Championship Executive Director Brian Goin in community outreach.
“We’re taking it slowly,” she said. “The job may develop in other areas, too.”
None of those areas, for the moment, involve TV work at PGA Tour Productions, though you’ll still see her doing some freelance infomercial work in this market.
Going from the helter-skelter of TV work to the more sedate community relations work will mean a major lifestyle change – one that will give Shirk the chance to take up golf.
“I live at Hidden Hills and I’ve always wanted to play, but there hasn’t been a chance,” she said. “Now, there is. It’s funny — just as I change careers to a more settled life, my boyfriend changes from insurance to opening a restaurant. Now, he’s the one working the odd hours.”
(For the record, his name is Mark Myers, they’ve been dating for three years and he’s just opened a Woody’s franchise on Wells Road in Orange Park.)
Shirk is from Syracuse, N.Y., and moved to Jacksonville when her father took a job here. Except for the years elsewhere “paying my dues” in TV, she’s been living in the same house overlooking the fifth green – now with her mother after her parents divorced and her father moved to South Florida.
She’s never married, and she and Myers have any plans on hold while they settle into their new jobs.
She knows the irony of their jobs: “He’s a big golfer and I got his dream job. I work at the Tour and I have a great golf course out the door.”