11 NJ Caddies March With Golf Bags To Ground Zero In Memory Of Fallen Golfers
Story and Photos by W.L. Bill Allen, Jr. Director, NJSportAction.net
Somehow, the number of participants seemed apropos. Last year, there were nine. This year t here were 11 caddies from Essex County NJ area golf courses who made the journey from the Shillelagh Club in West Orange, NJ, to the World Trade Center on the 11th anniversary of 9-11. As they marched--each carrying two full sets of golf bags--in memory of the members of local golf and country clubs who were killed in the terrorist attacks.
It all started five years ago when, driven by a mix of grief, respect and anger, two good friends who happened to be part of the golf world: Greg Corbo of Roseland and Kenny Cooke of West Orange, decided to make a statement the best way they knew how. Cooke, the Caddie Master at Essex County Country Club (ECCC, 1887), and Corbo, a certified golf instructor and certified professional caddie, personally knew or knew of a myriad members of area clubs who were lost on September 11, 2001, and came up with a way to keep their memories alive.
Since the Montclair/West Orange area is a mecca for golf courses, including Upper Montclair, Montclair, Essex County, Francis Byrne, Essex Fells, Rock Spring, Crestmont, Greenbrook and Mountain Ridge, the two decided to walk from the Shillelagh Club, which is right across the street from Essec County Country Club, the oldest golf course in new Jersey, to penn Station in Newark, take the PATH train to Ground Zero, join the crowd at the rememberance activities and then walk down to Battery Park. There, they wrote names of some of those who were murdered on 9-11 on golf balls and then hit those balls into the Hudson Bay to immortalize them.
Since that original march five years ago, the effor has grown significantly. In fact, the last tow years have seen what is now a fairly large group of caddies being led down the Shillelagh Club's long driveway by bagpipers, as the dedicated Jersey loopers started their sojourn, which totaly more than a score of miles on the day.
What is called the "Be A Hero For Zero" march, has its own Facebook page and is attracting unprecedented attention, both locally and nationally.
Last year, the caddies were escorted through the Brick City by several Newark Police cars. This year, they were invited into the non-public areas of Ground Zero by high-level NYPD officials for a private tour, a huge honor. "It was a bit overwhelming to be invited into the site," said Cooke. "The guys were honored and took it very seriously. We all collected some memorabilia, bracelets and shirts to remember the historical importance of this day. We were honored and I consider myself part of that family now."
Each of the caddies also carried not one, but two, full golf bags, a total of about 60-70 pounds, during the entire trip, because, "That's just what caddies do, were carry the luggage," Corbo laughed of the somewhat grueling endeavor.
"When I started this walk with Kenny Cooke back in 2008, this year's version was exactly what I envisioned--a group of caddies marching together on the concrete to remember a day which forever changed the world we live in," explained Corbo, who served as sports editor of the Montclair Times for three years shortly after 9-11 and, more recently, spent a year as the sports coordinator for The Progress newspaper in Caldwell.
"These past tow years, our numbers have grown substantially. I think that may be because this was the tenth and eleventh anniversay of the attacks and Bin Laden has finally been extinguished and those things have definitely provided a little extra motivation to for us to get in there and do what we do. In many respects, this walk symbolizes anti-terrorism, as well, even though the sad fact is that it will never go away completely.
"We went, we walked and never forgot why," said Corbo. "Walking on concrete is a bit more strenuous than doing the same on a golf course and I know there will be a few sore backs, blisters and few shin splins between the guys...but so what!"
Joining Corbo (ECCC, Upper Montclair Country Club, Lancaster Country Club) and Cooke (ECCC) for the 2012 walk were Montclair dweller John DePasquale, Jr, (Montclair Golf Club), Jimmy Ski of Clifton (UMCC), Darnell Wilson of West Orange (ECCC), Christopher Kiefer of Clifton (UMCC), brothers Brian and Sean Baker of Wayne (UMCC), and Nick Cilli and Jesse Wakins of Little Falls (UMCC).
This year's walk was done in memory of two former Rock Spring Club members: Michael Finnegan and John Murray.
"The original idea was to recruit caddies from other clubs in New Jersey or the Tri-State area where members were lost," said Corbo. "Off the top of my head I know that members were lost from the Upper Monclair, Montclair, Rock Spring, Greenbrook, and Ridgewood clubs."
"We have had at least three and as many as eleven caddies each year which is exciting. Now, we are going to begin actively recruiting for next year's walk. In three to five years, I envision 25-50 guys coming in with us, the more the merrier."
"We'd also like to thank this year's sponsors: River Street Ideal Lease, Michal Anthony Jewelers, corbosport.com, Williams-Forrest and NJSportAction.net," Corbo emphasized, adding, "In addition, both Professional Caddies Association of America (PCA) and Florida Golf Central Magazine of Orlando (FGCM) have reached out to me and requested yearly sponsorship which excites us greatly.
"Lots of people are catching wind of what we do and [are] becoming very supportive."
Corbo is a 1999 graduate of PCA and was the managing editor of FGCm for a time after he graduated from the San Diego Golf Academy of the South.
Be A Hero For Zero is already looking forward to next year's walk.
"We go in and we get it done and I will continue this until I physically can't do it anymore, and that's all there is to it," smiled Cooke.