The Stories Of 5 Westchester And Hudson Valley Golfers Who Are Giving Back
The MGA estimates local golf events raise $16 million for charity annually—and these five local golfers have helped make that number a reality.
“You get more when you give,” says John Kennedy, director of golf at Westchester Country Club and founder of Golfers in Support of the Troops Foundation, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to distribute clothing and other items to US troops and their families since 2008. That money buys golf clothing at 50 percent of wholesale cost with Kennedy funding the other half out of his own pocket. The clothing is sent to various army bases through Captain Sean Morrow, the nephew of Westchester Country Club member Joe Morrow.
In 2013, another WCC member who is in the baby furniture business came to Kennedy to ask how he could help. “I contacted Meghan, Captain Morrow’s wife,” Kennedy says. “And she found 42 wives of servicemen who were expecting at Fort Drum. They all received baby cribs!”
In another effort, Kennedy raised $25,000 to buy Special Forces-grade body armor for Morrow’s platoon in Afghanistan. “I went to a few members and raised it almost overnight,” Kennedy says. “We are able to have a great impact on military lives through the connection between golf and our members.” Kennedy’s efforts were recognized by the PGA of America, which honored him with its Patriot Award in 2012.
Tangible results distinguish the charitable gifts given by Ken Whitney. Last year, for example, he bought five 15-passenger vans to transport participants in The First Tee of Metropolitan New York. In 2012, he started a fund that awards eight college scholarships nationally each year for First Tee youngsters.
“Golf has played a big role in my life,” Whitney says. “A lot of my values came from playing
the game and all the things you learn through that.” He joined the national First Tee board when they were doing a capital campaign and became chairman of the New York chapter this year.
Whitney is a senior advisor to the Blackstone Group. He was previously a senior managing director and head of the Investor Relations & Business Development Group.
He’s a member of Scarsdale and Hudson National golf clubs and played on the golf team at the University of Delaware.
“The connection for me in all this was the scholarship program, which gave us a lot of satisfaction,” he explains. “When you see these kids and the impact the First Tee has had on them, it’s really eye-opening.”
Tony Balassone doesn’t run marathons—he plays them. He cranked out 451 holes in one day at Trump National Golf Club Hudson Valley last June. He wasn’t just feeding his golf habit, though. He was playing to benefit the Eric Trump Foundation for St. Jude’s Hospital. His 12-hour total equaled 25 18-hole rounds at an average score of 76. His real triumph? He raised over $70,000 for the cause.
Balassone, co-owner of Calico Restaurant and Patisserie in Rhinebeck, and his wife, Leslie, raise money each year on behalf of a different charity. In 2013, Tony raised $28,000 for multiple sclerosis research, in memory of his uncle, by playing more than 90 holes of golf (on foot) at Trump National. He walked nearly 26 miles in the process.
“My uncle was a priest with the Carmelite order,” Balassone explains. “Before he passed away, we talked about giving back. He made me promise that no matter what I took in life, I made sure that I gave more than that back.”
Joe Miressi may be retired, but he hasn’t stopped working to support local causes near to his heart. The former executive of Rawlplug in New Rochelle doesn’t just play in numerous charitable golf outings every year, he runs several of them, providing the organizational skill and personal enthusiasm necessary for success.
“The biggest and closest to me is the Boys & Girls Club of New Rochelle,” he explains, “because I was a member of it as a boy myself.” Miressi chaired the event for many years as it grew to attract more than 140 golfers to Wykagyl Country Club on the day after Columbus Day, raising six-figure sums for the cause in the process.
Miressi’s involvement with the Boys & Girls Club goes deeper than its golf outing, however. “Gus Mascaro was my mentor when I was a boy,” he says. “When I became an adult, he inspired me to join the board.” Not long after Miressi retired, the Boys & Girls Club happened to have recently lost its executive director. The other board members asked him to fill that role for a year (more than a decade ago!) while they looked for a permanent replacement. Miressi says, “It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
In her 38 years at the Metropolitan Golf Association, Jeanne McCooey has served in many capacities, currently as senior managing director, communications. Nothing gives her more satisfaction, however, than overseeing Golfworks, the internship program that has provided summer employment for more than 2,000 kids since its inception in 1994.
“When we started out, it was just me banging on doors to find kids,” McCooey says. “Now we have four recruiters who work with police athletic leagues, church groups, and others.” The program last year found jobs for 225 kids at about 85 participating golf clubs in the metro area. The program has launched careers in agronomy, club management, and the culinary arts for participants and more than 40 students have earned college scholarships.
“Golfworks is a program to open up opportunities to young people who would not otherwise have access to them. It’s for that kid who may walk by a golf course every day but doesn’t know that there are good jobs available there.” The purpose strikes close to home for McCooey, who adds, “I didn’t grow up around country clubs, and I really relate to the first time I went into a club and how intimidated I was. Over the years through golf, though, I’ve met so many wonderful people.”