It’s 5:45 am and the sun is rising over the dew-covered fairways along Chicago’s North Shore. Soon, 84 high schoolers from underserved areas across the country will gather at area golf courses to caddie for a shot at a full ride to college.
Some of the girls never imagined they would be where they are today—overcoming unfortunate circumstances from their past, beating the odds and working hard toward receiving a college scholarship.
But for seven weeks, these young women – more than 90 percent are minorities – will put in their all on the links, lugging golf bags on a daily basis as part of the Western Golf Association’s (WGA) Caddie Academy program, which provides young women a chance to caddie. If they complete the three-summer program, they’re eligible to apply for the Chick Evans Scholarship, a full tuition and housing scholarship through the Evans Scholars Foundation awarded to top universities across the country. Applicants must demonstrate a strong caddie record, excellent academics, outstanding character and financial need.
Meet the caddies
For most Caddie Academy participants, the program is a life-changing opportunity.
Take Karen Ayala-Hernandez from Georgia, for instance. Karen is attending the Caddie Academy for her very first summer. Her parents, immigrants from Mexico, gave up what they had to give their daughter a better life, and Karen is forever grateful and strives to make them proud. Karen is ecstatic about the real-world skills and lessons she will learn from the Caddie Academy.
Unlike Karen, Atim Bedell from Maryland just started her third summer at the Caddie Academy and is so excited for the opportunity to learn how to caddie and be surrounded by successful golfers. As the oldest of four siblings, Atim serves as a role model for her brothers and credits the Caddie Academy for her good example. While she is just now approaching her senior year of high school, Atim dreams of becoming an award-winning author.
After her mom died at age 7, Precious Bahena set out on an endeavor to make her mother proud. Now a current sophomore in Chicago, Precious is a model student and was near the top of her freshman class while taking AP classes. She is excited to continue excelling during her time at this summer’s Caddie Academy.
Alanna and Alyssa Mora-Mickens, twins from Philadelphia, just finished their sophomore year in Philadelphia and are back in Chicago for their second summer at the Caddie Academy. In addition to exceeding as caddies on the golf course, Alanna and Alyssa are on their school’s volleyball and basketball teams and participate in student government.
These are just a handful of Caddie Academy participants who are developing promising futures for themselves both on and off the course.
Other benefits of the Caddie Academy
When the girls have wrapped up their rounds for the day, they head to the Woodlands Academy of Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Illinois, where they live with female Evans Scholars, who serve as counselors and mentors for the participants. These supervisors drive the caddies to their respective courses each day.
While caddying on the courses require a lot of work, the teens have the opportunity to take advantage of countless perks, including special outings and field trips like baseball games and a trip to Chicago Botanic Gardens, in addition to attending career presentations from successful female leaders and practicing standardized test prep training.
The first Caddie Academy class began in 2012 with just 12 caddies, and since then, the program has expanded to accommodate 84 caddies. More than 100 high school freshmen girls from across the country applied to participate in this summer’s Caddie Academy, and those chosen as part of the incoming freshmen class are from Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C.
In the 2016-2017 school year, 935 Evans Scholars were enrolled at 20 universities in the nation. To date, the Western Golf Association has sent over 11,000 teens to college through the Evans Scholarship. Since the Caddie Academy’s launch in 2012, 23 participants have received the Evans Scholarship.
The Caddie Academy continues to grow, as the program is vital to the WGA’s goal of sending 1,000 caddies to college each year by 2020.
The 13 partnering clubs along Chicago’s North Shore include Conway Farms Golf Club, Evanston Golf Club, Exmoor Country Club, The Glen Club, Glen View Club, Indian Hill Club, Knollwood Club, Merit Club, Onwentsia Club, Northmoor Country Club, Skokie Country Club, Twin Orchard Country Club and Westmoreland Country Club.
Information and Images provided by the Western Golf Association.