Leadership on the links
Golf caddie program on rise in Grand Junction
Calvin Bavor’s self-admitted lack of knowledge of the golf course didn’t keep him from getting a summer job as a caddie.
The soon-to-be Grand Junction High School senior has never played golf competitively and doesn’t own his own set of clubs. But for his summer job, he carries other people’s golf clubs around and, on occasion, is asked his opinion on what club the player should use.
And all of it is on-the-job learning for a sport he didn’t know much about a few months ago.
“I hear a lot about some of the summer jobs some of my friends have,” Bavor said. “Then I tell them about my summer job. They can’t believe it.”
Bavor is one of four high-school kids in Grand Junction taking part in the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, which is in its inaugural year on the Western Slope. The program has seen success over the past five years in the Denver area.
“I got to see how well it was doing over there,” said Rick Ott, a Colorado Mesa University professor and Lincoln Park Golf Course men’s club president who serves as the primary advisor for the group. “The first thing that came into my mind after that was, ‘Man. Why can’t we do something like that?’ “
Ott joined Danny Sommers, a longtime instructor at Lincoln Park, and Frank Wilkinson, a longtime Colorado Golf Association (CGA) volunteer board member, in bringing the program to Grand Junction as a pilot program. Its purpose is not only to provide something different for participating golf courses Lincoln Park and Tiara Rado, but to teach assertiveness and leadership skills that could lead to college scholarships.
So far, so good for the program in Grand Junction.
“When I was a kid, I used to caddy as a way to make money,” said 64-year-old Grand Junction golfer Joe Rukauina, who has used some of the caddies in the program. “You don’t see that any more at all, and a program like this brings out leadership qualities and teaches these young people about etiquette and manners.”
The four teens in the program, through funding from the CGA and private donations, each receive a $1,200 stipend for the summer. They’re also required to take part in a weekly one-hour leadership class and perform some form of weekly community service, which this year has consisted mostly of golf-course maintenance, and finish 36 complete 18-hole loops around golf courses. The caddies can also receive monetary tips after an 18-hole round.
It’s a program the Colorado Women’s Golf Association said grew from a handful of players at Aurora’s CommonGround Golf Course to producing close to 5,400 caddie loops between CommonGround and Meridian Golf Club in Englewood. In all, 13 Solich caddies have earned full tuition and housing scholarships at the University of Colorado.
And there’s no experience required, either. Along with Bavor, soon-to-be Palisade High School freshman Amarah Thompson had never played a round of golf before getting her summer caddy job. “I wasn’t really doing anything this summer besides traveling, and I just thought it would be a good experience,” Thompson said. “Plus, I’ve never had a job before.”
There’s other perks too.
Caddies have had chances to meet and network with players who frequent the golf courses, which leaves ample opportunity for them to make connections with potential careers beyond the golf course. It also gives them a chance to learn more about the game by measuring their capabilities against those they caddy for.
“Everyone has different lengths in their swing,” said Chloe Manchester, who last year went to the Class 5A girls golf state tournament as a junior at Grand Junction. “I know that I hit my 8-iron 120 yards, but I could go out and caddy for someone who may only hit it 90 yards. That’s something that (is easier to recognize) by golfing more.”
Rounding out the four-caddy field is Carson Kerr, who also attends Grand Junction High School.
Ott said he’s received plenty of positive feedback about the program and, in an ideal situation, would like to see as many as 12 caddies go through the program annually.
That’s why this year, Ott feels things are off to a good start.
“If we start with quality at a very small level, all of the sudden word starts getting around,” Ott said. “How would we measure it? I’d hope that 10 or 15 years from now, we’d be able to look at the kids who came through the program as leaders in their community. In an ideal situation, we’d like to look at these kids and say, ‘They turned out how we thought they would.’ That’s our goal.”