In 2012, the Western Golf Association noticed something was missing from the game. There were just a few female caddies. That year, staff members decided it was time to change that at golf courses around the country and began what is now known as Caddie Academy.
In its seventh year, the seven-week program has provided young women with an opportunity to experience a different side of golf. The program is designed for high school students who may not have access to golf courses and caddying, and allows participants to earn money, work outdoors during the summer, learn the game of golf, develop interpersonal skills and interact with successful adults, according to the website. Caddies assist golfers, lend support and advice while golfing.
“We are strong ambassadors of caddying,” said Mike Maher, WGA’s senior director of education & caddies. “We think it’s a great summer job for high school-age students, and a great steppingstone job for anybody.”
After recognizing the need for young women on golf courses, Maher and the WGA staff began brainstorming how to fix the issue. They settled on a pilot program with 12 young women from inner-city Chicago, women who may not have had experience with the sport at all. As it turned out, none of the young women had ever been exposed to golf or even been on a golf course. But knowledge of the sport is not a requirement for participants of this program.
“We just ask for the right attitude and the right effort,” Maher said. “Our motto is ‘work hard and be nice.’ ”
Since then, the program continued to grow. This year, Maher and his team are hosting 90 girls from around the country and 18 new women, the largest group since the program’s inception. The applicants must be currently in their freshman year of high school and exhibit outstanding character and leadership, and academic success.
Although Caddie Academy has expanded from its humble beginnings, the learning, discipline and solid structure of the program remain. For seven weeks, participants awake bright and early to begin the day. Caddies are assigned their golfers and spend the days preparing the golfer’s gear, carrying clubs, watching the ball, and moving about the course. Transportation, meals and housing are all provided.
Besides learning the ins and outs of golf and caddying, the academy provides summer programming with guest speakers weekly, some of whom are alumni of the program returning to share their success stories.
Another important part of the program is becoming eligible for the Chick Evans Scholarship, offered to applicants with a strong caddie record, excellent academics, outstanding character, and in need of financial aid. Participants in Caddie Academy become eligible after completing the program for three summers.
“This past year, we awarded 275 new awards and we just completed this academic year with 965 Evans Scholars around the country attending 20 different universities,” Maher said.
For Evans Scholarship recipients Noella Bamigbola and Morayo Ayodele, the Caddie Academy is turning dreams into reality.
Neither Bamigbola nor Ayodele, both 18, had any interest in golf, but their curiosity was piqued when they learned of the opportunities the academy could potentially provide.
Now, both are interested in the sport and have become leaders among their peers.
“When they walked in their first year, much like all first-year participants, they were a little bit reserved and a little bit anxious to see what exactly they’d gotten themselves into,” Maher said. “Now, they’re both leaders in the program.”
After one summer of the program, Bamigbola joined her school’s golf team and gained a greater appreciation for the sport. The sport is also a reminder that Bamigbola, who will be attending the University of Illinois this fall, is healthier and able to do things that seemed impossible just a few years ago.
When Bamigbola was in the third grade, her mother was diagnosed with melanoma, a type of skin cancer that begins and spreads within pigment-producing cells. As a result, Bamigbola lived with her grandparents while her mother sought treatment and recovery. During Bamigbola’s junior year of high school, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract.
“That was particularly difficult to deal with during the college application process and trying to get my grades up,” Bamigbola said. “I was sick all of the time and in and out of the hospital.”
Today, both Bamigbola and her mother are in much better health.
“[My health] has stabilized, and I’ve been able to get it more under control,” Bamigbola said. “I definitely am thankful that my health is better, as well as my mom’s.”
For Ayodele, the scholarship is providing her the opportunity to become the first one in her family to graduate from college. Ayodele, who will be attending Penn State University in the fall, plans to study hospital management after witnessing her mom’s struggle with epilepsy.
“I’m the oldest sibling, and after helping my mom and stabilizing her after seizures, I became interested in the medical field,” Ayodele said. “I’ve been thinking about hospital management because of her condition … Receiving the scholarship gives me an opportunity to improve my life and set an example for my two younger siblings.”
Bamigbola and Ayodele are advocates of getting even more young women into the program. They believe the opportunity is one of a kind and hope young women who enter the program learn life lessons, create solid friendships and take advantage of networking opportunities the academy offers.
“It’s important for young women to also get involved because I believe it’s predominantly men on the golf course, so it would be good for us to be in the environment,” Bamigbola said. “If you stick with it, you’ll see the benefits and rewards in the future.”
“I would suggest [that young women] try new things, definitely take the risk and get out of your comfort zone,” Ayodele said. “Getting out of your comfort zone provides great opportunities that you probably wouldn’t know existed if you never tried.”
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