By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Behind Dave Kazanjian’s golf center and athletic apparel store sits a white trailer. It holds around 30 years worth of a critical component of his business: golf balls. More specifically, out of service golf balls. Thousands and thousands of them.
Kazanjian, owner of Whirlaway Sports Center on Merrimack Street, and his brother began saving golf balls in the 1980s after they expanded the driving range to a double-deck enclosure with heating units to allow the dedicated golfer to swing all winter long.
So what do you do with a trailer full of golf balls? Kazanjian doesn’t want to throw them away, for environmental reasons – “I don’t think they break down,” he said Friday – and for practical reasons. Maybe someone else could do something with them.
So he suggested donating some of them to nonprofits and to people trying to raise money. In the month since he made that suggestion, he got several emails from nonprofits pitching ideas. He was away earlier this month and has not yet been able to reach out to many of them, but several jumped out.
One in particular is an organization in Providence, R.I. called Button Hole that works with disadvantaged children from urban areas.
“It appeals to me because it’s helping kids,” he said.
“When I was in high school, someone in town stepped up and made a donation that helped send me and a teammate out to nationals,” said Kazanjian, who ran track. The national meets were in Bloomington, Ind., and Longview, Wash.
Button Hole founder Edmund M. Mauro raised money to build the program on 26 contaminated acres in Providence near a couple housing projects in 2001. Since then, Button Hole has had about 15,000 kids through its six-week program, which teaches golf rules and etiquette along with discipline, patience and perseverance, said Marguerite Brown, director of development at Button Hole. Last year, 2,600 kids participated on the program, most of them with full or partial scholarships. Kids who complete the course get a card for $1 bucket of balls or $1 round of golf until they turn 18 to keep them involved.
While minting pros is not a goal, several Button Hole alumni have gone onto to compete in Division I golf in college, she said.
The organization, which has a budget of about $750,000, raises money, relies on grants and seeks donations to offset operating costs. It has expanded to include a handicap-accessibility grant that Brown said will bolster their work with disabled children, and help with access for seniors who can take public transportation to the course.
Brown said she didn’t believe the offer when she heard it. “It just sounds extraordinary,” she said. The donation would offset operating expenditures for golf balls, which could be shifted to developing their programs, she said.
Kazanjian is still reviewing the emails he has gotten, but he likes golf for kids because, aside from the fact he grew up with a club in his hand, he sees it as being accessible to more people. And the stars, starting with Tiger Woods 15 years ago, are getting younger and younger, showing a less-stuffy side of a sport he thought was more traditionally associated with retirees and doctors on Wednesday.
“It’s something almost any kids could pick up without worrying, ‘Am I good enough, lean enough or quick enough?’” he said. Plus, golfers are wearing more Nike and Puma and less plaid.
While he likes Button Hole, he hopes he can help groups locally. “My roots and my business are in Methuen,” he said. Kazanjian’s grandmother purchased the land Whirlaway sits on in the early 1930s, and his grandfather started the business soon after. It has remained in his family, and he loves seeing the eyes of his 2-year-old nephew light up when he comes in.
Among the other emails, he also got one from a girl who wanted to paint faces on the balls and sell them for her organization. And an associate of his, a track coach in Burlington, suggested donating some to the high school’s golf program there.
Whirlaway already raises money with a 10 kilometer road race, and he tries to give when he can. But donating his surplus balls also generates creativity from the members of the groups. “There are so many good causes out there. Everybody is trying to do something, and this is a way for them to do something creative,” he said.
Golf balls, of which they buy 20,000 to 25,000 per year, go through several phases in its working life at Whirlaway. Phase one is for new balls on the front line during the summer. They stay there for a year or two and move on to phase two, which is winter balls. The snow probably wouldn’t hurt them, but he said he’d rather use the worn balls because snow prevents them from being shagged until spring.
Retirement to the trailer, which almost sounds like a euphemism, is phase three. Kazanjian said there are hundreds of thousands of balls in plastic crates and in sacks in the trailer. Some of the balls may be 30 years old, and really the only option is to throw them in the trash. Or, if you’re creative, to paint a doggie face on it and sell it for $2 to raise money for cancer research, for example.
Anyone interested in a donation of golf balls for a fund raiser or nonprofit group can email Kazanjian at email@example.com.
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