When Columbus Crew players walked into the Grove City sunshine Tuesday, there wasn’t a soccer ball in sight. Instead, they started their afternoon with golf instruction from LPGA Tour veteran Natalie Gulbis. The players were joined by fans and golfers in attendance at the Crew’s third annual Golf Classic at Pinnacle Golf Club.
The event is organized by the Crew Soccer Foundation, the “charitable arm” of the organization, and the day’s proceeds benefited the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for youth heart health research and programming. Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers says the team’s charitable events are huge for the community.
“It’s critically important. We lost Kirk Urso a year ago yesterday,” he said. “We had Ryan Moore here today, who is a young man with a congenital heart defect who had a chance to meet Kirk, and that’s one of the key things our foundation is about, raising money for congenital heart defect research, particularly in kids, and helping the quality of life for those kids.”
But administrators weren’t the only ones touting the importance of the event. Defender Chad Marshall said that giving back to the community is one of his favorite parts of the team.
“Since I’ve been with the Crew, that’s always been a huge part of the organization,” he said. “We always look forward to Crew Fest and interacting with people and talking because those are the people who come out and support you, they’re your biggest fans, and ultimately they pay your salary. So it’s fun to give back and be able to hang out with them.”
Urso’s death last year was determined to be caused by Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart defect. McCullers said that benefitting the fund in Urso’s name and helping the community is an important role for the organization.
“We’re here to win championships and we’re here to win soccer games, but sometimes when you talk to a kid like Ryan and you understand what he’s enduring, it kind of put things into perspective,” he said. “As an organization, our role in the community and what we can do there are things that we can definitely control, and I think it’s our responsibility to do so.”
Gulbis, who returned to the states Monday from her ninth-place finish at the British Open, was impressed with the Crew’s philanthropy efforts and the organization of the event.
“What [they] do here and just how involved the Crew soccer players and the foundation is in this community is remarkable and what they’re doing to raise awareness and work with kids and the heart disease foundation is amazing,” she said.
With professional athletes playing a charity event, rookie forward Ryan Finley said he thought the event might get a bit more competitive than a usual friendly day of charity golf.
“This is my first event with the team, but I think it’ll be pretty competitive,” he said. “It will be interesting to see who can keep up with each other.”
While veteran Marshall seemed focused on meeting fans and interacting with sponsors, the defender said that the day’s scores will likely be a topic of conversation among the team for the rest of the week.
“It’s a pretty laid back, fun atmosphere, but you definitely want to be one of the top groups,” he said. “Whoever struggles is probably going to get some slack tomorrow in training.”