It’s not a plan that would seem to be intuitive: Get money for college by hanging out at the golf course.
Especially if you’ve never played golf.
But that’s what worked for Joanna Hernandez, now a freshman chemistry major at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. Hernandez, 18, is from the south part of Chicago. Four years ago, she didn’t know the difference between a putter and a driver and had never set foot on a golf green.
Now, she’s one of 910 golf caddies receiving full-ride scholarships this year thanks to the Chick Evans Scholarship from the Western Golf Association (WGA).
“I had no idea what caddying was,” says Hernandez. “I did it because it was something to do over the summer and my mom didn’t want me sitting home.”
The scholarship started more than 85 years ago when professional golfer Chick Evans convinced the WGA, a group that started around Chicago, to start paying for caddies to attend college. Now, the WGA recruits boys and girls from all over the country, trains them, offers them summer housing, and gets them paid caddying jobs at various clubs. They are then eligible to apply for full-ride Chick Evans scholarships. Chick Evans Scholars, supported by a foundation that pays out $15 million a year, now attend more than 19 schools across the country.
The graduation rate for scholars is 95 percent.
Depending on the school, scholars may even live together. The Evans “house” becomes a support system, providing more structure than usual dorms, such as study hours for freshmen. There are currently houses at Marquette, Northwestern, Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State and the universities of Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Indiana and Miami (of Ohio).
Hernandez still doesn’t play golf but can carry two bags for an 18-hole round. She learned a lot about life caddying, she says, such as how to earn someone’s respect, the value of hard work, and how to speak to adults. Last summer, she was a counselor in the Evans program and even though she’s aged out of it, plans to return to caddying next summer.
“Everyday you get to meet someone successful and learn about who they are and what they do,” she says.
And living with a diverse group of girls each of the last four summers helped her make the transition to college.
“You learn to compromise and not put yourself before others. And (you’re) learning that everyone in the house has a voice and what we do in the house has to benefit everyone.”
And the sweetest part of her Chick Evans experience? “Just being able to hand your parents that letter and see their faces light up but … also having someone believe in you.”