News & Opinion

Youth golf helps link learning with earning

Second of two parts

In a long-ago interview, I asked a very high-placed golf equipment executive how he got into the game. He waxed poetic about his youth golf experience.

“I was slapping sleeves [of balls] in the pro shop and pulling beers in the grill before I was old enough to drink myself,” he said with an appealing blend of brio and wistfulness.

Juniors also run the tee sheet, find a handful of tees, wipe down the clubs and store them, and mow that hump on No. 11 so the ball rolls off instead of sticking up there and leaving you an impossible second putt. From pro shop to locker room to grill room to maintenance shed, a lot of the people who make your Saturday game work are kids. And kids have dreams.

We’ve already seen how talented juniors can play their way into college scholarships, even if those educational prizes may not be as plentiful as some hope or believe (Part 1: “Junior golf offers varied paths to success,” Oct. 10). But what about those who contribute to the game but can’t shoot rounds in the 60s? Or those who can, but can’t afford to travel around the country showing college coaches what they can do?

Fortunately, there are ways. Scholarship funds and other programs for deserving juniors have helped write many of the game’s success stories for decades, even if the ending doesn’t involve trophy-hoisting or earnings measured in purses.

Among the best-known is the Evans Scholars Foundation, an arm of the Western Golf Association in the Chicago area that has been awarding scholarships to young caddies since 1930. The idea began with Chick Evans Jr., Chicago golf’s favorite son in the early 20th century and winner of the 1916 U.S. Open. The program has grown from two scholars at Northwestern University to 965 awardees at 20 colleges for the 2017-18 academic year, according to the WGA’s website. Ninety-five percent of Evans Scholars graduate, and there are more than 10,000 Evans alumni, according to the WGA.

The Evans story is so well told that the program can dominate the conversation about youth scholarships in golf. But other programs in other cities do good work as well. The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund, based in Norton, Mass., provides annually renewable scholarships to kids who work in golf, be they good players or not. Ouimet, a contemporary of Evans’ and a caddie, shocked the golf world by beating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy of their time, in the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in nearby Brookline.

Like Evans, Ouimet became a local hero and an international figure, eventually serving as a captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club. And like Evans, he took an interest in the advancement of young people. His foundation began awarding caddie scholarships in 1949.

“Yes, it started out as just caddies,” said Bob Donovan, the foundation’s executive director, “but in the early 1980s, it expanded to others who worked in the service of golf.” Today, a little more than half of those are caddies. The remainder are mostly “golf support” – pro shop, bag room, cart management and such – and about 10 percent are course-maintenance workers.

“What it really came down to is, there are a lot of great kids who make the game good for all of us,” Donovan said. “And not every club has a caddie program.”

The expansion has worked. The Ouimet Foundation has awarded almost $36 million in aid to more than 5,800 students in nearly 70 years. It will provide $2.2 million in the current academic year. The graduation rate among Ouimet recipients is 94 percent.

Some graduate to a profession in golf; some go another way. David Wilson, now the head professional at the Hyannisport Club on Cape Cod, had some clear realities to face as high school was ending.

“Where was I going to go to college? My parents were both in the hospitality industry, working in bars and the like,” he said. “They were busy making sure we could live.”

His dad made time for golf, though, and a round with him and both grandfathers when David was 10 hooked the youngster on the game for good. He caddied at Wollaston Golf Club in Milton, a Boston suburb, and took care of business well enough at Boston College High School to earn consideration from the Ouimet Foundation. The money helped Wilson as he headed to the professional golf management program at Penn State.

“Ouimet money pretty much paid for my housing senior year,” Wilson said. And it wasn’t just the money. Ouimet helped him with classes and seminars, such as the Dale Carnegie training that Wilson used to learn to manage his relations with people.

Even if they don’t adopt golf as a profession, Ouimet alumni tend to remain faithful to the program. Kevin MacLaughlan grew up in Lowell, Mass., the son of two teachers, so education was always front of mind. From age 11, he spent the kind of halcyon golf summers you hear about: junior member at Long Meadow, a local nine-holer, at the course with friends from early morning to late afternoon. Then when he was 15, the superintendent approached him about learning to be a greenskeeper. That’s how he spent his teenage summers.

“The best part for me was the afternoon, when I would go out and syringe the greens,” he said. “Didn’t have to wear a shirt. Started at 6 a.m.; done by 2:30 – and then I could play.”

That stint, plus some caddie work at other clubs, built a record that MacLaughlan could use to impress the Ouimet interviewers – a panel of five who politely grilled him for 20 minutes on some key subjects.

“Such as, who was Francis Ouimet, and why was he important?” MacLaughlan said. “And this was pre-Internet; you really had to do your research.”

MacLaughlan did, and he qualified for the $5,000 per year that helped him attend Holy Cross, his dream school. It was the golf support work, not his 15 handicap, that tipped the balance.

“I knew my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” he said. His degree in economics and accounting earned in 1993 led to a career in finance. He gives back to the Ouimet Foundation by taking a seat on those five-person interview panels and maintaining a robust group of friends and benefactors in Boston-area golf.

“It’s a tight net,” he said. “I really cherish it.”

And they keep on coming. Taylor Delosh grew up playing golf from age 6 on Boston city courses near her home in middle-class West Roxbury.

“I’m not a good player, really,” she said after a long shift at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is in graduate school to become an occupational therapist. “I just like playing socially with my friends.” The oldest of four kids of a single mother, she sought responsibility early, working in a city youth golf program as a forecaddie at age 14 and learning some golf course maintenance at George Wright, a Donald Ross design in nearby Hyde Park. After three years of that, she became a supervisor and then director of a similar youth program at another city course, William J. Devine in Franklin Park.

“I did have a little bit of an academic scholarship,” she said. It helped her get a degree in behavioral health from Boston University in 2015. It was the Ouimet scholarship, though, that enabled her to take the next step.

“Without it, would I have been able to apply to grad school? Probably not. And the Ouimet money also helped in choosing the schools I really wanted to go to.”

Her graduate classwork is done. When she completes her clinical rotations next May, Delosh will have a doctorate in occupational therapy. She plans to use it to work with kids – no surprise there – to study the application of early-intervention therapies.

Not a bad outcome for someone who learned early to keep her eye on the ball.

The Ouimet Foundation is just one of many organizations that weave financial need and golf service into the funding decision. It happens on the playing side, too. The American Junior Golf Association, for example, started its ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence) grant program 15 years ago to reimburse good players who have trouble affording the expenses of pursuing a strong tournament record in AJGA events. The idea is to get these players in front of college coaches even if they don’t have resources to spare. In 2017, the grants helped create more than 1,000 playing opportunities for juniors.

Stories such as these, showing the game’s lines of communication and comradeship crossing economic strata and creating lasting impact, can surprise some who consider golf bound up in a century or more of unjustified elitism. Thanks to the programs that helped write the stories, though, the game’s apologists can confidently answer:

It’s an education.

Adam Barr has surveyed golf for 25 years as a print and broadcast journalist (Golfweek, Golf Channel), an equipment company executive, and with the USGA as director of communications and its museum. He lives in Basking Ridge, N.J. Email:; Twitter: @ABNarratesBooks