Tens of thousands of spectators attended the BMW Championship PGA Tour event in Lake Forest, Illinois, in September. While many of them may not have realized it, the profit generated from their ticket purchases went toward helping young caddies attend college.
The Western Golf Association (WGA), which organizes the BMW Championship and several smaller tournaments, runs the Evans Scholars Foundation (ESF), an organization that provides college scholarships to teenage caddies who need financial aid.
All profits from the BMW Championship go to the foundation. Additionally, a scholarship is awarded each time a golfer records a hole-in-one during the BMW Championship. During this year’s tournament, Jordan Spieth aced the second hole during the first round, resulting in the donation of a scholarship in Spieth’s name.
High school students, both male and female, can apply online for ESF scholarships, which are for four years and include full tuition and housing. “The four criteria are a strong caddie record, excellent academics, financial need, and outstanding character and leadership,” said Mike Maher, the director of education at the WGA.
Last year, the ESF awarded scholarships to 250 caddies (from a pool of 743 applicants). This year it hopes to award 260.
The Program Begins
The ESF was founded more than 80 years ago by famous amateur golfer Charles “Chick” Evans. Evans grew up as a caddie and went to Northwestern University for one semester, but he had to drop out because he couldn’t afford it.
He went on to become a very successful golfer, and he decided to dedicate the funds he won to sending deserving caddies to college. He approached the WGA to help facilitate his program, the association agreed to help, and in 1930 the first two Evans Scholars started college at Northwestern.
Currently, there are 910 Evans Scholars studying at colleges throughout the U.S. “Our goal is, by the year 2020, to have 1,000 scholars in school,” Maher said.
Typically a scholarship recipient attends an in-state university chosen by the ESF (although a scholar’s preferences are taken into account). The foundation owns and operates chapter houses at 14 universities. This is where Evans Scholars live during their time in college, unless they are at a school with no chapter house, in which case they live in the community at a resident’s home.
“The importance of scholarship house living is really one of our core values. It’s a great environment to attend college,” Maher said. “So we limit [our scholars to certain schools] because we want to have scholarship houses, rather than having everyone go wherever they want and be spread across and not have that support.”
Making an Impact
Two current Evans Scholars are Charlie Bulger, chairman of the Evans Scholars National Committee, and Grant Cassell, vice chairman.
Bulger, 20, is a junior at the University of Minnesota. He started caddying when he was 13, at Minnesota Valley Country Club in Bloomington, near his home. That’s where he heard about the scholarship. “The financial assistance is huge,” Bulger said. “It helped me figure out how I was going to attend school and pay for it.”
Now he’s pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. “I hope that next summer I can get an internship, and when I graduate in 2017 I can get a job in that field somewhere near the Twin Cities,” he said.
Cassell first heard about the program when he was 14 years old and caddying at Cherry Hills Country Club in a Denver suburb. “They’re a sponsoring course for the program, so they really push it,” Cassell said. He’s now 21 and a senior at the University of Colorado. He plans to go to pharmacy school when he graduates.
Cassell is the chapter president at the Colorado house, and Bulger is the chapter president at the Minnesota house. “My favorite part of the scholarship is getting to live in the house and getting to be part of that community,” Bulger said. Cassell agreed: “The past three years, I’ve really made close connections with the scholars I’ve been living with.”
While there are typically a few Evans Scholars from Canada, “the vast majority are U.S. citizens and residents,” Maher said. (Canadian scholars go to universities in the U.S.)
Funding and the Future
The ESF runs one of the largest privately funded scholarships in the country, according to Maher. Aside from BMW Championship proceeds, which usually are between $2 million and $3.5 million dollars annually, the ESF has a lot of individual donors throughout the country, including some of the roughly 10,000 alumni of the Evans Scholarship. The total monetary value of the scholarships awarded per year is about four times what is raised from the BMW Championship, Maher said.
As far as Maher knows, none of the program’s alumni have gone on to play or caddie on the PGA Tour. However, as he pointed out, “We have a rich history of caddies using the job as a stepping stone to [jobs in other fields].” Sam Allen, the CEO of John Deere, and Thomas Falk, the CEO of Kimberly-Clark, were both Evans Scholars.
The four-year graduation rate for the Evans Scholars class of 2015 was 95%. Currently, the ESF is accepting applications for scholarships that will begin during the 2016–17 school year. The organization will then review the applications for several months and make its selections. “The application process is a very thorough one, and the review process is even more thorough,” Maher said.
During summer breaks at college, Cassell and Bulger have returned to the courses where they used to caddy. They train younger caddies and also caddy themselves. “I tell them about the scholarship so they know what opportunities are there,” Bulger said. “We’re all very lucky to get to be a part of that.”
Photos: Western Golf Association
Betsy Drazner/WGA (middle); Charles Cherney/WGA (bottom)