Numbers at the CU Evans Scholars house for caddies have more than doubled over the last decade
by Gary Baines
The Evans Scholarship for caddies is one of golf’s favorite charities, but things didn’t look very good a decade ago for the part of the program based at the University of Colorado.
The house at 1029 Broadway in Boulder (left) has been the home of the CU Evans Scholars since the 1960s. For the great majority of the half-century since, the norm has been 40-50 caddies living at the house any given school year, receiving full tuition and housing scholarships at CU.
But for the three school years beginning in 2005-06, the numbers at the CU Evans Scholars house dipped below 30 for the first time since the building was purchased in November 1968 to house the caddies.
There were just 28 CU Evans Scholars in 2005-06, 27 in 2006-07 and 29 in 2007-08. The long-term health of the Colorado chapter was in question, and it’s not unprecedented for the Illinois-based Western Golf Association, which administers the scholarship nationwide, to close an Evans Scholars house if things aren’t working out.
“I think I was” worried when the numbers of CU Scholars dropped into the 20s, said Geoff “Duffy” Solich, a CU Evans Scholar alum and now the WGA’s state chairman for Colorado. “We thought at first it might have been an abberation, but that was concerning.”
But at that pivotal time, instead of things going south to the point of no return for the CU Evans Scholars, the situation rebounded — and in a major way. And now, due to a variety of reasons, the number of Evans Scholars at CU starting this school year was a record 62, with three-quarters of them having caddied in Colorado.
That means that in the course of a decade, the caddies based at the house have more than doubled.
“I am really excited about the growth of the program in Colorado and especially excited about the quality of young men and women we are seeing as finalists,” George Solich, who played a key role in the turnaround on several fronts, said via email. “The need is greater than ever, so our ability to change more lives through the Evans Scholarship is rewarding beyond words. From a community-living standpoint, the energy, enthusiasm and quality of experience for the kids is so much greater when the Scholarship house is bursting at the seams.”
The WGA has long partnered with the CGA in supporting the scholarship at CU. The Evans Scholarship, awarded to high-achieving caddies with significant financial need, is a flagship program for the CGA. Through the association’s bag-tag sales and Par Club contributions, Colorado donors fully fund the year-to-year scholarship costs at the CU Evans Scholars house.
With the soaring cost of college, it’s now estimated that the scholarship is worth an average of $100,000 if renewed for four years.
To qualify for an Evans Scholarship, applicants must have excellent caddie records and academic results, show strong character and leadership, and demonstrate financial need.
Last week, more than 100 people — including alums, many representatives of the CGA and WGA, and other supporters of the program — interviewed finalists for the incoming class of Scholars at Denver Country Club. Coincidentally, that’s where scholarship founder Charles “Chick” Evans won one of his Western Amateurs, in 1912, before later capturing titles in the U.S. Amateur (twice) and the U.S. Open. Nationwide, the Evans Scholarship dates back to 1930 and has produced more than 10,600 alums.
Thirty-two Colorado caddies applied for the scholarship this time around.
Among the reasons the number of Evans Scholars at CU (some of whom are pictured at left) has surged in the last decade are:
— The creation of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, starting at the CGA-owned CommonGround Golf Course. The program is named after the aforementioned Solich brothers, George and Duffy, both CU alums and longtime major supporters of the program. The Academy, now with chapters at CommonGround, Meridian Golf Club and in Grand Junction, has produced more than 7,000 caddie loops over the last six years, as well as plenty of Evans Scholars.
— The WGA’s long-stated goal of reaching 1,000 Evans Scholars in school nationwide by 2020. The figure for this school year is 965, who are attending 19 universities around the country, with scholarship costs reaching $20 million annually. Nationwide, Evans Scholars are a high-achieving bunch, averaging a 3.3 grade-point average and a 95 percent graduation rate.
— The creation of a staff position at the CGA dedicated to caddie devolopment and recruitment, initially funded by George Solich. Erin Gangloff and Emily Olson have both played key roles at the CGA in that regard over the last decade.
— The $6 million expansion and renovation of the CU Evans Scholars house, which was completed early in 2016 under the guidance of project manager Rick Polmear, a University of Michigan Evans Scholars alum. The project added about 2,000 square feet of finished space, making room for roughly 10 additional Scholars to live there.
— Concerted effort by WGA directors in Colorado, including former state chairman Bob Webster and his successor, Duffy Solich, to identify and bring forward qualified candidates for the Scholarship, and to build support for the program financially and otherwise.
— And, of course, as a practical matter, the rebound in the economy following the Great Recession that hit almost 10 years ago. That’s helped money flow much more readily into the program, not only in Colorado but nationwide.
“In my view, the growth (of the number of CU Evans Scholars) is due to several factors,” George Solich noted. “First, our focus at the CGA on developing and promoting strong caddie programs throughout the state is starting to pay off. Second, it is undeniable the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy is reaching high-performing inter-city kids that are proving to be very deserving of an Evans Scholarship. These young men and women in many cases would have never stepped foot on a golf course without this program at CommonGround Golf Course and now Meridian Golf Club. Now we have (many) kids from this program earning a full tuition and housing scholarship to CU.
“And finally, with our partnership with CU Boulder, the CU Evans Scholarship house has become a truly national house with approximately 20 percent of those Scholars coming from out of state. This makes for such a rich and diverse mix of Scholars, making the Colorado Chapter more like the university demographic as a whole — kids from all over the country.”
CGA co-president Joe McCleary has been a longtime supporter of the Evans Scholarship and of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy. He was among those in attendance at the selection meeting last week at Denver Country Club.
“The relationship the Colorado Golf Association has with the Evans Scholars and the creation of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy made a real difference,” he said. “That was one of the goals of the Academy: to generate candidates who could fill those scholarship spots at the house. Just like anything, it takes a group of people to get things done, and that’s what’s happened. It is an incredible milestone, and it makes the difference in a lot of lives.”
Janene Guzowski serves on the Executive Committee of the CGA Board of Directors, chairs the CGA Caddie Development Committee and has been a WGA director for roughly eight years.
“There’s so much more awareness about the scholarship now through all of the work of (Olson and Gangloff),” Guzowski said. “Regarding kids at the house, they can have that many more with the remodel. I’ve been a (WGA) director eight years and it’s tended to grow and grow and grow. They started bringing in kids from other states and that helped fill the house and diversify it.”
After going sub-30 in the number of CU Evans Scholars, the total returned to the 40-plus mark in 2010-11, then reached 51 in 2015-16. Since then, it’s jumped to 57 last school year and to 62 this one.
Kevin Laura, the current CEO of The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch and of the Colorado Open Golf Foundation, served as president of the CGA in 2006-07. Given that, and also being a CU Evans Scholar alum, he finds the doubling in the number of CU Evans Scholars over the last decade to be a job well done in many respects.
“What I like the most is when we hit that bottom number (of less than 30 CU Evans Scholars), we didn’t sit there and sulk about it,” he said. “We almost kind of absorbed it. We not only doubled our efforts but quadrupled them by increasing the number of (WGA) directors that are supportive (and encouraged) more golf clubs and caddie programs to be more supportive. George (Solich) and Bob (Webster) went back to the university saying we’ve got to bring back that out-of-state (Scholar) element and figuring out how to do that affordably (tuition-wise). And obviously the house being (expanded).”
The CU Evans Scholars program now has more than 460 alums dating back to the 1960s, and it looks like that number will be reaching the 500 mark in the near future.
“I think the longevity of the house in Colorado is more secure based on having 62 kids up there rather than 30,” Duffy Solich said. “And it’s better for the kids to have more people there.”