The Evans Scholars Foundation and Western Golf Association want to place more kids in caddie yards nationwide
WALK THE WALK Enter your zip code at wgaesf.org to find a caddie program near you. Photograph by Charles Cherney
CALLING ALL high schoolers, whether or not you know a thing about golf. There’s a revolution afoot to bring back the greatest summer job ever to young people. Work outside, earn cash and scholarships, enjoy daily interaction with successful folks and maybe meet someone who changes your destiny. If you play golf or try, you get to live like a millionaire once a week on caddie day.
For me, it was actually three days a week: Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays after 4 p.m. at Ekwanok Country Club, the greatest course in Vermont. It was such a raw deal I caddied there only eight summers through high school and college.
Like a lot of gigs, caddieing took a hit during the pandemic. But now that normal modes of human contact are back, so is looping. This time, “The pandemic has made us reassess what’s of true value in life,” says Ed Brockner, vice president of east region development for the Evans Scholars Foundation.
What Brockner means is that on our generation’s watch, caddie yards have become the domain of adults. These guys work year-round migrating with the seasons and command high fees ($120 per bag and more) for expert service. They can read a triple-breaker blindfolded and clean your ball while telling you an unforgettable story, but there’s also something nice about paying a kid, knowing your money is going toward books, a first car, someone with big dreams.
Brockner’s mission is to put more youth in caddie yards in the East. Because The Evans Scholars Foundation was founded in 1930 by the great Chicagoan amateur Charles (Chick) Evans Jr. and the Western Golf Association (it’s doled out full college tuition and housing to 11,556 caddies in its history and awarded a record 315 last year), it’s often incorrectly thought of as a Midwest jam. The truth is, Evans has spread nationwide. Donations from former scholars and the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship have the foundation teed up for unprecedented growth.
Jack Druga, the beloved head pro who retired last year from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island, has come aboard to recruit kids through high school principals, oversee training, and liaise with top courses.
Druga grew up caddieing at Oakmont Country Club, so he understands intimately what all caddie masters do: Adults with rent to pay typically make more reliable employees than teenagers who get pulled by school, travel sports, parties at the beach and other fun.
“We’ll supply kids who are motivated to treat it as a real job,” says Druga, who oversaw the recent enfoldment of eight high schoolers into the culture of about 50 career caddies at Shinnecock. “By no means is it about taking over. But I do believe every caddie yard is improved with the presence of a few kids, even if it’s just weekends.”
Recognizing not all golfers want the expense or experience of a caddie is also key. Says John Hand, a director for the Westchester Golf Association, “Within every club there are at least 20 members who want to walk with a caddie. Maybe some prefer a single-bag caddie at a lesser rate. We have to be nimble to grow these programs.”
Didier Jean-Baptiste, dean of seniors and college placement at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, N.J., has been coordinating with Evans for two years and has placed 20 kids, many at Baltusrol Golf Club. He starts by emailing the ninth graders because they have time to complete the requisite 100 loops before senior year to become Evans scholarship eligible. Of course, he targets strong students from non-affluent families. “But the prospect of the scholarship can be a carrot for students who need to get their grades up,” Jean-Baptiste says. “We’re still inventing the wheel.”
The number of Evans Scholars from the East has doubled from 44 to 90 in four years. Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State are newly participating universities. Golf rounds are up, and Evans has a goal of increasing to 1,500 national annual scholars by 2030.
Money and life-changing opportunities abound. As the boys used to sing over Notorious B.I.G. on our way to Ekwanok, “Gimme the loop, gimme the loop.”