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Inside Sankaty Head Caddie Camp, the Oldest Caddie Camp in America

For nine weeks every summer, 60 boys call Sankaty Head Golf Course on Nantucket Island their home. These boys have the privilege of attending Sankaty Head Caddie Camp, the last residential caddie camp in the country.

Sankaty Camp has been running 85 years without any interruption. It opened in 1930 when there were a lot of caddie camps around the country. Slowly, though, they began shutting down. World War II required young men to fight, and after the war clubs could not afford to keep them open. 

But Sankaty has stayed in operation. "This camp exists because membership believes in it,” says camp director David Hinman. It costs $400,000 to run the camp, and the funding comes from member donations. 

Members help the boys on and off the golf course, too. When one boy came to camp, he had never held a golf club. A member gave him a set of clubs that he didn't need anymore. Another member donated new sneakers for all the boys. "It's like members have more children for the summer," Hinman says. 

Sankaty Golf Club members include Jack Welch, retired chairman and CEO of General Electric, and Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots. 

Caddie campers pay $5 per day, which includes room and board. They caddy six days a week, and at the end of the summer, they can take home their earnings.

The boys work hard and play hard. They wake at 7 a.m. and caddy all day.  In the evening, they play organized sports such as touch football, basketball, volleyball, baseball, swimming, tennis, horseshoes, and, of course, golf.  Lights go out at 10 p.m. 

"After a long day of caddying and playing sports, there are no complaints about bedtime," Hinman says. 

But it’s not all golf all day. They also have daily chores. The experience gives campers independence, responsibility, and teamwork skills.

"Caddying teaches the boys how to hustle, talk with adults, and be polite,” Hinman says. “The most important thing a caddy can do is to listen and show the member that he cares about being on the golf course." 

The application process to get into the camp is competitive. Each summer, Sankaty  hosts 60 boys ages 13-17 from all parts of the U.S. and even abroad. But because some kids come back again and again, there are a limited number of spots open each year. Hinman says in 2015 he received 100 applications for only 12 spots. 

The campers are diverse in all aspects — but there are no girls. He explained, “The complexity of being a residential camp with limited space makes it difficult to accommodate girls,” Hinman says.

Playing golf is not a requirement to apply, and many boys come to the camp never having been on a course. Others are skilled players. One camper even went on to play on the PGA Tour.   

"I look for motivated kids who have some level of athleticism,” Hinman says. “Being a hardworking, good person is really important here." At the end of the summer, he chooses which boys to invite back, and many return year after year. 

In his three years as camp director, Hinman has made college preparation a big part of the program. The camp offers college counseling, SAT preparation classes, and instruction on public speaking. 

A bonus is that the camp offers a scholarship for boys who have attended the camp for at least two years. This year the camp will award $137,000 in scholarship money. As part of scholarship application process, the boys write an essay and meet with select members for a personal interview. 

But with everything the caddies learn at camp and all the opportunities Sankaty gives them , the biggest takeaway might be friendship. The boys form deep bonds with each other, and most of them keep in touch. One camp alumni’s entire wedding party was his fellow caddies.

"With Facebook and cell phones, they do stay connected more than ever before,” Hinman says.

Photos: Jensen Larson Photography

sankaty head caddie camp
sankaty head caddie camp