The warm afternoon sun shone high above the club in Winnetka, Illinois, on June 20, beating down on the pristine grounds, which were closed to members for the day and therefore nearly empty.
Shortly after the young women headed out to the golf course, they learned how to hold the pin.
This was after the lesson during which they discussed how to introduce yourself to the person you are caddying for.
And it was before they talked about where to stand while someone is putting.
Caddying is filled with many intricacies and precise decorum, as the girls were quickly finding out. But essentially it involves carrying a golfer’s bag of clubs around the course. Caddies will often also help golfers navigate the course and provide guidance on how to hit their shots, although the academy girls would be advised against this for now.
The academy participants had arrived in the Chicago area the day before. They had just had time to settle in at the private school housing in Lake Forest where they’d be staying together for the next seven weeks. After classroom caddying instruction in the morning, their counselors had driven them to Indian Hill Club for the lesson.
Every summer beginning in 2012, the Western Golf Association (WGA) has run the Caddie Academy program, in which the participants caddy at various courses in the northern Chicago suburbs. It’s mostly funded by a donation from WGA Director Fritz Souder and his family.
Underprivileged high school females from around the country are chosen for the academy based on family financial need, school leadership, and good grades, and applicants are favored if they live far from a golf or country club (as they would not have the ability to caddie in their own neighborhood). The WGA estimates that only 2% of all caddies are women and hopes to raise that number through the academy.
Before the actual lesson, there was a group photo. In front of the shimmering white clubhouse on this 80-degree day, the attendees stood three deep, wearing their uniform khaki shorts, white golf shirts, and yellow caps. Click.
It’s crazy how far things have come since 2012, when there were just 12 young women enrolled in the academy. By last summer that number had risen to 43, but that was still only about half of this year’s total.
More than 100 freshmen girls from across the country applied to participate in the Caddie Academy this year. Of that group, 43 new participants — some of whom may never have even set foot on a golf course — were invited to take part in addition to the 35 returning ones.
For some of the returning kids, this was actually their fifth summer as a part of the program, meaning they will have been students at the academy for the maximum possible time. This summer’s participants include young women from Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.
When the picture was over, they were split into two groups, the new girls and the returning ones, and it was time to head to the course for some demonstrations.
The ultimate goal for the attendees, more than 90% of whom are minorities, is to be able to apply for the WGA’s Chick Evans Scholarship for Caddies. It provides four years of full college tuition and housing scholarships to young men and women who have a strong caddie record, excellent grades, outstanding character, and financial need.
While girls can apply for the scholarship even if they are not part of the Caddie Academy, the academy offers the chance to learn and practice caddying to girls who otherwise would probably not have the opportunity. It takes Caddie Academy girls three summers to have accumulated the necessary amount of rounds to apply for an Evans Scholarship. Most academy participants since 2012 have successfully completed the three summers that they need.
Kezia Setiawan, 17, is one of the more experienced academy participants; this is her fifth year in the program. Kezia has already been awarded the Evans Scholarship. Her 16-year-old sister, Katya, is in her second year in the academy.
Julissa Andino, 17, who is from Chicago and in her third year of the academy, described the “waiting game to get a loop.” (“Get a loop” means “caddie for a golfer.”) Sometimes a caddie will wait at a course for hours before getting a chance to caddie for someone. Some days they won’t get to at all.
But “it’s a lot of fun,” Andino said of the academy.
Thinking Beyond the Golf Course
Each day, the girls caddie at one of the 12 participating clubs in the academy this year. These include Conway Farms Golf Club, the site of the WGA-run 2015 BMW Championship PGA Tour event, and Indian Hill Club. The young women are allowed to accept tips from golfers.
Aside from caddying, special activities are planned for the group, such as a trip to a baseball game and career talks from successful women.
“Some of the girls have become like my sisters,” said Ayana Davis, 18, who has been awarded an Evans Scholarship and is in her fourth year in the academy.
The potential of a full-ride college scholarship was what caught the attention of many of the young women when they first learned of the Caddie Academy. Fifteen of the beneficiaries of Evans Scholarships — at least four of whom were part of the academy themselves — are serving as counselors at the academy this year. Some of the counselors are still in college; others have graduated.
Shalonda Jones, a counselor, is currently at Marquette on an Evans Scholarship. The 19-year-old was also part of the Caddie Academy, and, like several other counselors, she found out about the academy when she attended a summer opportunities fair during high school.
Since the academy’s inception, 17 participants have been awarded the Evans Scholarship. Out of this year’s class, there are nine girls who have been awarded the scholarship and will begin college this fall.
Even for the participants who don’t receive Evans Scholarships, the academy can still prove beneficial. Betsy Drazner, WGA Manager of Communications, noted that the girls learn important life lessons in addition to how to caddy. They learn how to have a professional conversation with an adult and how to give someone a proper handshake, for instance. Additionally, they are exposed to successful people. Said Drazner, “[It] widens their view of the world.”
Photographs courtesy of the Western Golf Association