John Rochford, a former chairman of the New Jersey State Golf Association Caddie Scholarship Foundation and CSF representative at Echo Lake Country Club since 1987, is the 2018 recipient of the coveted Honey Gantner Award, presented annually to the NJSGA’s top volunteer.
In his 30 years as Caddie Scholarship Foundation representative at Echo Lake, Rochford has helped raise more than $800,000 and had more than 200 Echo Lake caddies receive scholarships to pursue college educations.
He will be presented the Honey Gantner Award at the NJSGA Annual Meeting on Thursday, Oct. 5, at Spring Brook Country Club in Morristown.
“I am overwhelmed. As someone who knew Honey back in the old days, I knew the effort and amount of hours and unselfish contributions she made to the NJSGA. She was always there to officiate and keep score and she did it with a great spirit,” said Rochford, 86, a resident of Westfield. “Honey was very efficient. To receive an award like this in her name just blows me away. I’m not in the same league as Honey, but I will graciously accept the award.”
Rochford served as chairman of the CSF in 1996-97 when CSF chairman Ed Batta was named NJSGA president. The two have worked tirelessly in supporting young male and female caddies as they pursued their educations.
“This award is well deserved for John. He stepped up early in the game at Echo Lake. He is an innovative fund raiser and really helped develop a solid caddie program there,” said Batta, the long-time CSF chairman.
“John and I both had similar interests. We had the same goals in wanting to grow the program. John is a very much behind-the-scenes guy. He‘s embarrassed by accolades.”
A native of Jersey City, Rochford graduated both St. Peter’s Prep and St. Peter’s College. Upon college graduation in 1954, he joined the U.S. Marines and served in Quantico and Camp Pendleton as an infantry platoon leader and, later, as company commander.
He spent most of his business career in sales and marketing with the American Can Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Maritz, Inc., a marketing services and events management company, headquartered in St. Louis.
As a golfer, John enjoyed the Maritz involvement in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am event and customer event at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill club where Rochford was privileged to spend time with Mr. Palmer.
In the 1970s, Rochford ran a customer event as part of Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Classic, and found Arnie to be: “The greatest. He was humble and would treat you like an old friend.”
Rochford began golfing with a group of friends in the 1960s. They played regularly at public courses like Spring Meadow, Old Orchard, Ash Brook and Galloping Hill, as well as Staten Island’s La Tourette.
He joined Echo Lake in 1980 and became a prominent member, serving at various times as president, house chairman and golf chairman, “but my biggest work there was with the Caddie Scholarship Foundation.”
Some 10 years ago, an Echo Lake caddie from Newark was falsely accused of being part of a gas station hold-up. Rochford, head professional Mike Preston and caddie master Marty Crowne, helped raised $15,000 to pay for a legal defense and the young man was exonerated.
“If we didn’t help him, he would’ve been buried in the system,” Rochford recalled.
To this day, Rochford is very gratified by being able to support so many deserving caddies.
“The ability to help top qualified young women and men, who return the favor by getting good grades, graduate and create good careers for themselves and families was always of utmost importance to me.
“The caddie scholars are good quality young men and women and the percentage of those who graduate is great (96 percent). I also like the fact that of the monies raised, more than 90 percent goes to actual scholarships,” Rochford stated.
“Under Ed Batta’s leadership, the Caddie Scholarship Foundation is so very well run. The quality of the scholarships and being part of the Foundation, has always made me feel great.”
In the early days of being part of the Foundation, Rochford worked side-by-side with Honey Gantner, Bunny O’Neill and Denise Keating.
“Bunny was the administrator for the CSF in the years when I started. It was fun working with Honey and Bunny and Denny. They’re fun people and good people,” Rochford noted.
“John has many of the same characteristics as Honey. Both enjoyed doing things for the Association and didn’t want a lot of accolades. They were both very dependable and did those things out of the goodness of their hearts. And both were similar in being embarrassed by recognition,” Batta added.
Rochford is the sixth winner of the award which began in 2012 with a presentation to Honey Gantner herself. Other recipients are Vic Bacile (2013), Bob Krueger (2014), Bernie Samons (2015), and Phillips Babcock (2016).
The NJSGA’s Honey Gantner Award is the first such award in the history of the NJSGA to be named after an individual, the late Honey Gantner of North Jersey Country Club, and is presented each year in her honor at the NJSGA Annual Meeting to an outstanding individual who has served the NJSGA on a volunteer basis.