In 2012, the Western Golf Association’s Caddie Academy began as a pilot program with 12 girls from the Chicago area. The Academy has since grown to welcome 80 teenage girls from all across the country to Evanston, Ill., to take part in the experience of a lifetime. For seven weeks each summer, the program provides high school girls the opportunity to learn the game of golf by caddieing at some of Chicago’s finest clubs along the North Shore.
“The WGA feels strongly about caddieing. It’s a great summer gig, but also a stepping-stone job,” said Mike Maher, the WGA’s Director of Education. “Two of the biggest caddie barriers are geography and gender. We wanted to address these obstacles, which is why the Caddie Academy is a program for girls.”
Six days a week, the girls wake up at 6 a.m., and are shuttled by counselors (often Caddie Academy alums) to one of 12 different clubs to caddie throughout the day.
The program aims to offer its participants much more than early morning loops. According to Maher, it provides exposure to a positive work environment and a number of role models on and off the course, as well as personal and professional development and the opportunity to apply for the WGA’s Evans Scholarship, which provides four-year tuition and housing grant to top universities across the country.
The Caddie Academy is largely made up of girls from minority and low-income families, and the average household income of this summer’s participants is just under $30,000.
Katelyn Sweeney just finished her third summer at the Caddie Academy. As a rising senior in high school, she’s going through the Evans Scholarship application process. From a small town in Ohio, Sweeney credits the program for making her a more mature, independent person.
“The program has changed me into a young adult with a more open mindset. It has really helped me branch out,” she said.
From 2012 to 2015, Caddie Academy participants lived at the Evans Scholarship house at Northwestern University. This year, the girls stayed at the Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Ill. The new location gave participants access to the school’s dorms, library, dining hall, athletic fields, classrooms and gymnasium. The Academy offers in-house standardize test prep two times a week for their upperclassmen, as well as individual test prep upon request. The average jump in ACT scores after the prep is 3 points. (During the school year, the program’s participants are just as hard working, and the average caddie GPA this summer is above a 3.8.)
The Caddie Academy’s application process includes each applicant submitting her transcript, letters of recommendation, essays and demonstrated financial need. Geography is taken into account, as well. If an applicant doesn’t have access to a caddie program within their community, she is strongly considered for the Caddie Academy. No golf knowledge or playing ability is required to apply, as both on and off-course caddie training begins on move-in day.
There’s plenty of off-course programming as well. The Academy hosts guest speakers, all successful females and often Evans Scholar alums to speak to the caddies. The program takes field trips, offers golf lessons and even has a book club. Some of the trips include attending a Chicago White Sox game, an architectural boat tour of Chicago, a retreat at the Chicago Botanic Garden and a tour of the corporate offices of PwC Chicago. Last month, the girls were also able to attend the LPGA UL International Crown at the Merit Club, where they got an inside look at the media center and met Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, the LPGA Player President.
Ayana Davis just completed her fourth summer with the program. She is an Evans Scholarship recipient and will be heading to Northwestern this fall. “How hard you work determines how much you make caddieing,” Davis said. “It’s not really about the money, though. It represents my hard work. I’m earning every dollar I make.”
Davis highlights the importance of showing up each day, going out there and doing the best you can.
“I connected with the club members through conversation,” Davis said. “From there, I was able to show them how I work hard and can do a lot more than caddie. I will take and run with opportunities.”
Davis has also become a role model for the younger girls at the academy. “I know the importance of this program,” she said, “and I think that encouraged some of the other girls to step up as well.”
“From year to year, it’s amazing to watch the progression of leadership roles as the girls grow from from younger, sometimes timid participants to the experienced ones who can serve as role models for the new girls,” Maher commented.
For Davis, a highlight of the program has been getting to know the other caddies. “I get to live with girls who are like sisters to me. There’s an overwhelming number of girls I can connect with, talk about caddieing with, and rejoice with after a good day on the course.”