(October 1, 2021) – Mike Ballo Sr. began his career in golf in 1947 as a caddy at Woodway Country Club in Darien. Little did he know at the time but that beginning set the wheels in motion for a life in golf. One that would include his wife Page and their two sons Mike Ballo Jr. and Peter Ballo. A life and career dedicated to family and the game that will lead to the Ballo family being honored as the Family of the Year at the 69th Annual Metropolitan Golf Writers Association National Awards Dinner.
The Family of the Year honor is awarded every other year to a family for its, “contributions to the game and for representing the virtues and ideals of golf and family.” When the family is honored on Wednesday, October 6th at Winged Foot Golf Club they will join other distinguished winners including the Justin Thomas Family (2018), the Walter Lowell Family (2000), the Jack Nicklaus Family (1992), and the George Bush Family (1991) among many others.
“They are all in for golf and it is not only playing but serving the game, it is working at clubs,” said Silvermine Golf Club head professional Stu Waack and long-time assistant to Mike Ballo Sr. “As I think about the honor that they are getting it is hard to think about a family that is more deserving because you have the mother, father, and both boys. They have just served the game at clubs and they are also great players as well.”
The Ballo family story in golf begins in 1947 when Mike Ballo Sr. or simply Senior as he is often called took a job as a caddy at Woodway CC when he was seven years old. Once he arrived at Woodway CC he never left, except for the four years he spent in the Persian Gulf while in the Navy. After returning from the Navy Ballo Sr. took the assistant professional job in 1964 and then assumed the head professional duties in 1971.
Senior served as the head professional at Woodway CC until 2003 and along the way he made his mark in nearly every aspect of the game. He taught the game, he served the members, he groomed assistant professionals into future head professionals, and he played the game at an extremely high level.
The success for Ballo Sr. in competitive golf began at a young age when he won the 1957 CIAC Individual Championship during his years at Stamford High School. Just over a decade later Senior would win his first Connecticut Open title in 1969 and then add a second in 1978. He would also win three PGA Westchester Classic’s and set numerous course records including at Woodway CC (61), Hartford GC (67), and New Haven CC (66).
“I was working for him and it might have been my first year [at Woodway CC] and Mike would play a little bit but I wouldn’t see him practice much,” Waack said. “We would play on Monday’s and I really didn’t think much about his game or how he played until that summer I played in the Connecticut Open and he was exempt because he had won it a couple of times. So I finished the round of golf and I shot a 75 or something and I am going to make the cut which I am happy about and I see him being interviewed by reporters and he is leading the tournament. I thought holy cow I didn’t see this guy hit a putt, a chip or a ball. He just knew how to play. It was just a really neat thing for me and I just thought well this guy is something.”
The local success for Ballo Sr. also translated to success at the national level. Throughout his career, he teed it up in three U.S. Open’s, three PGA Championships, the 1995 U.S. Senior Open, and the 1988 PGA Tour’s Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic. His performance at the 1995 U.S. Senior Open is still one that is talked about fondly 26-years later. Competing at Congressional Country Club Ballo Sr. spent much of the first two days on the front page of the leaderboard and made the cut.
“When my dad qualified for the U.S. Senior Open at Congressional CC I was six or seven and my brother [Peter] was three or four and I feel like that was the first time we got an understanding of how good of a golfer he was,” said Mike Ballo Jr.
However, the biggest impact Ballo Sr. had on the game might have been his ability to help his assistant professionals become head professionals. Nine in total including Waack and current Woodway CC head professional Mike Crawford would make the jump from assistant to head professional thanks in large part to the lessons they learned from Ballo Sr.
“Working for Mike made me in the business,” Waack said. “He taught me the business of the service of golf. Teaching golf, running golf tournaments, the pro shop, and I was learning from one of the best pros at one of the best clubs. I was a kid from Rockland County in New York and I had worked at a public golf course for a couple of years and then I came over to Connecticut and it was a whole different show for me. He was my journeyman that I worked for. I became a Class A professional and he gave me the skills to run a club.”
There are many aspects to running a club, one such aspect of great importance at Woodway CC was the junior program that Page Ballo ran. Page went to Darien High School before playing golf for two years at Furman University and then two years at the University of North Carolina where she was an All-American and All-ACC selection. She played with the legends of the time competing against Betsy King and Beth Daniel and she was one of the first ten women to become a PGA member.
“She was an assistant professional but her specialty was the junior program,” current Woodway CC head professional Mike Crawford said. “She really had a love for teaching junior golf and trying to turn these young boys and girls into accomplished golfers. You could tell right away that she had a real passion for junior golf.”
Her passion for junior golf was a direct window for the Ballo boys into the game. “My fundamentals were taught by my mom,” said 2021 Connecticut Open champion and Silvermine GC assistant professional Peter Ballo.
Peter, 30-years-old and the youngest of the Ballo boys, was a part of the Woodway CC junior program for eight years and still uses a number of the lessons he learned from his mom in his teaching today.
“I use a lot of it,” Peter said. “I try to keep things very simple for kids because that is the way their brains work at this point. One of the rhymes I use for the kids is something that she used and she called it ‘left foot, right foot, one-two-three.’ It is one of the silliest and easiest rhymes ever but it is extremely useful and it works.”
Peter wasn’t always sure if he wanted to go into the golf business. After high school, he followed in the steps of his brother Mike Jr. joining the St. John’s golf team and later completed his college career at Sacred Heart University. After college Peter wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He of course had played golf but he had also played hockey growing up and was involved in coaching. While talking about what his next move would be after college it was suggested that he look at the Metropolitan Section PGA website for open positions and to see if he wanted to be a club professional like his parents.
“I tried it to see if I liked and I have liked every second of it,” Peter said. Since becoming an assistant professional Peter has continued his playing career following in his father’s footsteps by winning the 2021 Connecticut Open to become the first father-son duo to claim the title, winning the 2021 Westchester PGA Championship Match Play, and playing in the PGA Championship which he did this year at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
On the bag for Peter at the PGA Championship was older brother Mike Ballo Jr. who spent a number of years chasing the PGA Tour before switching course to join the family business.
“Being part of the culture of the club and bringing a golf feel and vibe to wherever I am is my favorite part of what I am doing now. It is the interaction with people that I really enjoy,” said Ballo Jr. who qualified for and played in the 2019 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship on the PGA Tour with Peter as his caddy.
Working in the club professional business and the lifestyle was something that was engrained into Ballo Jr. from a very young age. “Daycare was the club,” Ballo Jr. reminisced. “We didn’t really go anywhere else to work. I pretty much started going to work with my dad when I was five years old and here I am 33-years-old and I haven’t done anything else in my life.”
The Ballo brothers would spend their days having putting contests with Woodway CC members for milkshakes, pulling carts, and setting up the range before being allowed to play golf.
“As a 10-year-old I would set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. and you can’t wait because you just want to go and pull the carts out and then go play the back nine with your dad. It was an everyday process and I can literally think about it like it was yesterday,” Ballo Jr. continued.
That process made golf not only the line of work for Mike Sr. and Page but the family business and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Ballo family stands for everything that is great about golf. The family atmosphere, the competitive atmosphere, the social atmosphere. They exude everything golf and they always have,” Crawford said. “Anything that you would ever think of as a golf professional dedicating themselves to a profession that is what the Ballo’s are. Great players, great teachers, very friendly and welcoming people. If I was going to dial up what a golf family would be the Ballo’s would be it.”
About the Connecticut State Golf Association
The Connecticut State Golf Association functions as an extension of the USGA and provides stewardship for amateur golf in Connecticut. Founded in 1899, it is the country’s oldest state golf association and conducts over 60 Championships, Qualifiers, and One Day Tournaments throughout the year.