The Gift of Giving: How Ethan Penha Found His Calling In Public Health

The golf community is known for being tight-knit, familial in a lot of ways. Whether it’s the camaraderie born from four-hour conversations on the course, or that which manifests itself in teaching the next generation the game, golf has always had its own little family. The Westchester Golf Association Caddie Scholarship Fund is proud to have awarded nearly 3,000 scholarships to deserving members of the golf family. In keeping with the family ties, two alumni are actually just that, family. Sachi Penha and Ethan Penha, both college graduates, picked up the sport around the same age and have carried it with them most of their lives. While some might remember Sachi’s story (link to it), we caught up with Ethan as well to see how his life has been shaped by golf.

Ethan’s story starts similar to Sachi’s, with early memories of the driving range with his father. When he was between the age of nine and 10, Ethan was enrolled in the First Tee program. At first he went to the course alone. Sachi is three years younger and was not enrolled at the same time as Ethan. He said his memories of the First Tee were that it didn’t just teach him golf lessons, but plenty of life lessons as well.

“It introduced me to the game of golf, and also taught me about the amount of academic and life preparation skills that are available through the game,” he explained. “The experience I had there from an early age kind of propelled me to keep the game in my life as much as possible.”

Even though Sachi was younger and didn’t start the program at the same time, when she did, the two would head to the golf course at the same time. Not only were the two sharing their experience at the First Tee, but Ethan mentioned that a few of their cousins were also in the program, which just added to the family connection.

“It was really cool to experience that with everyone,” he said. “Even though we weren’t all in the same groups and classes, we could always talk about what we did when we got back from the course. To have that shared experience was something special.”

Shared experiences in golf continued to be a theme in Ethan’s life as he moved through high school. In fact it was his younger sister who was the first person to suggest he should caddie.

“Sachi actually started caddieing before me,” said Ethan. “She started at Sunningdale about a year before me.”

Ethan caddied every summer at Sunningdale from his sophomore year through his senior year of college at NYU. After teaching Sachi the ropes at the First Tee, it was she that ended up teaching Ethan the ins and outs of caddieing.

Though Ethan was always taking part in the First Tee’s programs (he never worked as an instructor), he explained how his involvement led to him eventually teaching the game of golf to some of his friends in college.

“I didn’t have nearly as much time as I wanted to play golf when I went to college,” he explained. “So when I got the time to it was always a big deal. I remember having the chance to introduce the game to some of my college friends who had never played golf. It was really special to me because a lot of them were beginning right where I was when I first started and to see them learn and enjoy it the way I did was pretty cool.”

Ethan said he feels indebted to the game because of all it has provided him and his family. Both he and his sister are WGACSF scholarship recipients and Ethan says at every turn he tries to do something to give back, in whatever way he can, to golf.

“I think it’s really important to give back and let people know all the opportunities that are available through golf,” Ethan said. “For me I think it’s important to make sure the next generation of kids knows how much the game can help people.”

Helping people and giving back is a common theme for Ethan. During his time with the First Tee he was involved in numerous community initiatives as part of the program. Now, in his current job, he also specializes in giving back. He works for the Business Outreach Center Network, on their minority business development team. The businesses mission statement is “to improve the economic prospects of traditionally underserved groups, with a focus on low- and moderate-income entrepreneurs and their communities, and thereby create genuinely brighter futures.”

Penha went to school for engineering, but after taking a data related internship with the BOC Network, his passion shifted to public health. Now, he is hoping to head back to school shortly to get his master’s in public health.

“I wanted to give back to the community in terms of addressing the health inequalities and social determinants of health and particular communities around New York, the, the region, the country, and then ultimately the world,” he said. “My position evolved a lot when the pandemic hit and the work we started doing after that only fueled my interest in public health.”

As Ethan mentioned, the First Tee taught him about golf, but also life. One thing that stuck with him was making a goal ladder, to help track the progress of ones goals and ambitions. With grad school already on the goal ladder, as well as continuing his excellent work in public health, Ethan said there is one other item he hopes to keep on the list for the rest of his life.

“Like I said, I just want to keep giving back to the game that helped me so much,” he mentioned “It’s going to be a continuous evolution of how involved I am in the game and giving back, but no matter what I’m always going to be doing those two things.”