Evans Scholarship Provides Full Ride for Golf Caddies

Evans Scholarship Provides Full Ride for Golf Caddies

September 21, 2021

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As a first-generation Mexican American growing up in Los Angeles, Sahari Ortiz knew nothing about golf outside the name Tiger Woods. Given its aristocratic tradition, golf isn't a sport that seems relevant to most inner-city youth.

But golf would indeed change Ortiz's life, providing a pathway to a full university scholarship and a career track. And she doesn't even play the game.

What Is the Evans Scholarship Program?

While in high school, Ortiz heard about the Western Golf Association's Caddie Academy, a summer program designed to introduce caddying opportunities to kids like her. She spent three summers in Chicago, where the academy is based, toting a 20-pound golf bag four hours a day, six days a week, for seven weeks.

"I learned so much about caddying, the game of golf, money management and, most importantly, about myself and others," Ortiz told BestColleges via email. "I learned how to interact with successful adults, and I was able to experience a world I didn't even know existed."

Yet the primary benefit of attending was the chance to pursue an Evans Scholarship — a full, four-year award covering tuition and housing at 1 of 21 top institutions across the country (see list at the bottom of the page). Administered by the Western Golf Association, the scholarship is reserved for young caddies with outstanding academic records and financial need.

For students like Ortiz, it's a ticket to a better life. The average household income of Caddie Academy participants is $30,000. Most kids would be the first in their families to attend college. Since the program began in 2012, 55 graduates of the academy have won an Evans Scholarship.

Universities Participating in the Evans Scholarship Program

State Institution # of Current Scholars # of Evans Alumni
Colorado University of Colorado* 58 521
Illinois Northwestern University* 40 758
University of Chicago 3 6
University of Illinois* 134 1,382
University of Illinois at Chicago 8 0
Indiana Indiana University* 61 686
Purdue University* 50 510
University of Notre Dame 32 32
Kansas University of Kansas* 42 164
Maryland University of Maryland 2 3
Michigan Michigan State University* 88 929
University of Michigan* 57 851
Minnesota University of Minnesota* 46 730
Missouri University of Missouri* 40 510
Ohio Miami University* 76 532
Ohio State University* 75 901
Oregon University of Oregon* 31 240
Pennsylvania Penn State University* 47 76
Washington University of Washington* 35 248
Wisconsin Marquette University* 60 829
University of Wisconsin* 85 1,052

*Campus includes an Evans Scholarship house

"I knew that I was on the cusp of an opportunity of a lifetime," Ortiz said. "My family and I always knew that I was going to pursue higher education. However, we had no idea how we were going to afford it."

The Evans Scholarship was established in 1930 by the WGA and amateur golfer Charles "Chick" Evans Jr. Today, 1,070 Evans Scholars are distributed across the 21 colleges, and the program boasts 11,556 alumni (along with a 95% graduation rate). The foundation spends about $25 million per year on awards and estimates that it has distributed $435 million since the program's inception.

According to Brain Shell, vice president of education at the Evans Scholars Foundation, the average household income for the most recent class was $68,000. In an email to BestColleges, he said demonstrating financial need is "extremely important because our mission is to provide life-changing opportunities to the students that may otherwise not have the means to go to college."

For this year, a record 300 scholarships were offered. Among the new class, 38% are women and 31% are people of color. All told, of the 1,070 current scholars, 34% are women, 32% are people of color, and 40% are first-generation college students.

The application process is competitive. Some 845 caddies vied for those 300 scholarships. Students typically apply as high school seniors but also can apply during their first year of college (for a three-year award). The application deadline is October 30, and decisions are rendered by April 1.

Evans Scholars Houses Provide Family Atmosphere

Ortiz attended the University of Oregon, where she lived in an Evans Scholarship house. Scholars reside in campus houses all four years. These "chapters" elect officers, run social activities, and participate in community service.

Ortiz's arrival at Oregon coincided with the opening of the university's Evans Scholarship house.

"I cannot imagine my college experience without my fellow scholars by my side," she said. "I instantly gained a family of 30+ individuals whose life experiences were similar to mine."

At the few universities without such houses, scholars live together in a designated campus residence hall, which offers a similar support system and locus of activity.

Katya Tulak, a University of Washington (UW) senior studying journalism and public interest communication, lives in UW's Evans Scholars house. Like Ortiz, she qualified for the Evans Scholarship through the Caddie Academy.

"Going into college, I felt at home because everyone in the house became your friends and you were able to easily connect because of this one thing, caddying," Tulak told BestColleges in an email. "Through that conversation of how each of us got into caddying, it opened to so many other conversations and it brings you so close to each other."

Most Evans houses have at least one graduate resident adviser who lives on-site. Erin Cronin, an Evans Scholar graduate of Miami University, fills that role at the University of Wisconsin, where she's pursuing a master's degree in speech language pathology. She touts the Evans model for fostering camaraderie among students.

"Just having a community of people that you'll always be with is like coming home to a family every night," Cronin told BestColleges.

Evans Alumni Support Current Students

A quick glance at the list of participating institutions suggests the Evans Scholars program has a distinct Midwest and West Coast flavor. Program officials intend to expand eastward, as evidenced by this fall's opening of the newest chapter at the University of Maryland. The campus will feature an Evans Scholars house starting in 2024.

That's just the beginning. Thanks to a $300 million fundraising campaign, the program has visions of expanding to additional campuses across the country. They'll allocate $50 million of that total toward establishing new chapters on both coasts, while $150 million is earmarked for student scholarships. Another $85 million will bolster the endowment.

Remaining funds will help grow the program through such efforts as the Caddie Academy and will support alumni initiatives. Alumni remain active in the program by mentoring current students, helping them land internships and jobs, and working with them to polish resumes and create LinkedIn profiles.

"There are a lot of efforts to strengthen skill sets of current students and give them tools they can use before they leave school," Cronin said.

Alumni also support the program by hosting fundraising events and donating more than $15 million annually.

"You get so much from the scholarship that it's almost innate to want to give back," Cronin said. "I know I'll be involved in the program forever. I'll be more than happy to go back to an Evans house, even if it's at a university I don't know."

Ortiz is now part of that alumni community. After graduating from Oregon, she joined the Evans Scholars Foundation as manager of the Caddie Academy and is helping kids realize the same opportunities she was given. With an eye toward a master's degree and a career in education or psychology, Ortiz is ever mindful of what the Evans Scholarship has provided her.

"It's hard to put into words just how impactful being an Evans Scholar was to me," she said. "It changed my life. I gained another family, and they got me through some of the hardest times of my life thus far. I can confidently say I would not be the person I am today without the Evans Scholarship."

Feature Image: Photo Courtesy of WGA

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