New Jersey PGA Professionals take to the ice for charity

New Jersey PGA
New Jersey Section golf professionals donned their pads and skates for a charity hockey match this fall.
By Mark Aumann
PGA.com

Series: PGA

Published: Saturday, December 19, 2015 | 12:40 p.m.

Happy Gilmore has nothing on these guys.

Some two dozen New Jersey PGA Professionals swapped their spikes for skates and wedges for sticks this fall when they took to the ice at Montclair State for the second annual charity event to raise money for the New Jersey Golf Foundation.

This year's contest was quite the even matchup, according to organizer Bob Downey, PGA Professional and Head Professional at Crestmont Country Club in West Orange, N.J. That made up for a 9-1 or 10-1 final in the inaugural event, depending on who was keeping track.

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"This year, it was a good 5-3 game," Downey said. "I really was surprised the first year how good the game was, as far as the pace of the game, the level of the game, the skill level: it was great.

"This year's game was a little bit better. It was closer because I think the first year, we didn't really know the level of the players, so we just kind of divvied them the best we can and unfortunately my blue team, we beat them up pretty good, 9 or 10 to 1. There’s still a little discrepancy as far as the final score."

It's an opportunity for PGA Professionals to do something a little different than the typical charity golf event. And Downey said the interest is growing. The first game generated $7,500. This year's take is still being counted.

So where did the original idea come from?

"I was the coach at Montclair State University a long time ago and they stopped the program back in 2000," Downey said. "But the athletic director that I worked with is now running Floyd Hall over at Montclair State University and they have an ice rink there.

"That's where I play a lot of my winter hockey. So I went in with the idea of having a fundraiser with the rink hosting the event. My original thought was getting a bunch of golf pros to play the Montclair State hockey program. Then the more I talked to people about it, the more golf pros I found out played hockey."

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So Downey thought there might be a chance to get enough players for two teams.

"I thought, 'Why not try to put together two teams and go play?’ So it happened the first time last year and it was a great success," he said. "We had people come in to see us -- some of our members and friends of ours — and we sold tickets to the event. We had raffle prizes of golf items, hockey items of foursomes of golf at the clubs that we play that, and we raised $,7500 the first year, which I thought was great."

Despite the wide variety in ages and talent level, Downey said everyone had a lot of fun participating.

"There’s kids who played Division III hockey, there’s kids who played in high school," Downey said. "We had a goalie on each side and we had 11 skaters on each side so we had 22 guys out there playing hockey.

"The members like to come out to see their golf pros doing different things. I'd love to see a few more people in the stands, but it was a great money-raiser for a great cause."

Any chance that the New Jersey Section might work in a few home-and-home series with other PGA Sections?

"No, we haven't been approached by any other Sections as a challenge yet," Downey said. "But that would be fun."

The game not only raises money, but it gives members of the New Jersey Section a chance to meet each other. That's not always the case when the primary concern of a PGA Professional is the daily operation of a course.  

So what was the biggest highlight of this year's game?

"The big highlight is that no one got hurt," Downey said. "That’s the first big thing.

"Second, I didn’t really know some of the guys who played and as we've played the last couple years, we've become a lot friendlier. What's good about that we're all getting together for the cause of the New Jersey Golf Foundation. We really had a nice time, got to know some of the people who have been in the section for a while — I’m in North Jersey and there are some guys that play in South Jersey and we just don't get a chance to see each other."

So is there a relationship between being good at hockey and good at golf? Downey said there may be some correlation, but it seems to go only in one direction.

"There are some very good hockey players in the NHL who are very good golfers," Downey said. "It doesn’t translate the other way, where good golfers translate into great hockey players.

"But you can definitely see the similarities where the slapshot and the chip shot are pretty close — the feeling of trying to compress the puck into the ice to get it up in the air — so there's a lot of similarities. You really want to make sure your weight stays to the left and keeps the puck low."

Downey's golf career started about the same time his baseball career came to an end. 

"I threw too many curveballs growing up, and I threw my arm out," he said. "My dad gave me a set of clubs when I was 15 and I started playing. I shot my 127 on my first round of golf and been playing ever since."

After graduating from Cranford High School, Downey attended Union County College and then on to Montclair, where golf coach Peter Famiano -- and long-time Crestmont head pro -- suggested Downey think about a career in the industry.

"When I played for him, I also started to work here," Downey said. "And when I got out of school, he said, ‘Why don’t you become a golf pro and then come work for me?’

"I've been here for 26 years. I started picking the range and caddying and then worked my way all the way up."