Innovative Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy going strong after 5 years
by Gary Baines
On Sunday at CommonGround Golf Course, as the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy unofficially celebrated its fifth “birthday” with its annual post-season buffet and awards ceremony, Duffy Solich heard a comment from a caddie’s parent that was music to his ears.
“One of the parents told me tonight, ‘Whether my son gets an Evans Scholarship (a full tuition and housing scholarship awarded to selected caddies at the University of Colorado) or not, (the Solich Academy) has made him who he is,'” Solich recounted Sunday evening. “I’m like, ‘Wow. That’s the nicest thing you could say.’ Those are hidden benefits you don’t realize when we started this. Things mature and happen and grow.”
Indeed, the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy to which brothers George and Duffy Solich (pictured above, with Duffy at left) lent their name was a unique idea when it was launched at CGA-owned CommonGround Golf Course in 2012. The Academy promotes the use of caddies in a major way by paying the base caddie fees, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip. But in addition to the caddying, per se, a major component of the Academy is that all of the caddies are required to attend weekly leadership classes and do volunteer community-service work each summer. And after two summers in the Academy, the youngsters who are successful graduate to other caddie programs in the area. And, ideally, some will become good candidates for the Evans Scholarship at CU.
So, having just completed season No. 5, how successful has the Solich Academy been?
With more than 1,400 caddie loops in 2016 (1,095 at CommonGround and 330 at Meridian Golf Club, which came into the fold starting last year), the two Colorado sites have generated almost 5,400 loops over the five years. CommonGround on its own has racked up almost 4,800. And nine Solich Academy caddies have gone on to earn Evans Scholarships.
“What’s really great is the kids are getting a lot out of it whether they get the Evans Scholarship or not,” said George Solich, who provided the inspiration for the Academy after reading a magazine article about a caddie camp in Nantucket, Mass. “We’ve touched a lot of kids. It’s been an awesome start.
“It’s really in a great spot. And thanks to the CGA for all its work in managing it and running it. Thanks to the Colorado Golf Foundation for supporting it. We love what it does.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many of the driving forces behind the Solich Academy were caddies themselves as youngsters, and quite a few received the Evans Scholarship at CU. That includes both George and Duffy Solich, CGA executive director Ed Mate, who was responsible for the execution of George’s original inspiration, and of major supporters such as Frank Nessinger. And even though he wasn’t an Evans Scholar, Paul Lobato, the PGA head professional who championed the idea of adding a Solich Academy chapter at Meridian Golf Club, caddied at Denver Country Club as a teenager.
Meridian’s program is much smaller than CommonGround’s, but likewise has gained grassroots support.
“It gets better every year,” said Lobato (below). “It started as a 9, now it’s a 10. Probably the most fun part of my job is seeing how (the caddies) grow, seeing how they get confidence talking to adults and getting better at their job. Some of the young kids come in really meek and quiet, then they start to gain confidence and get better and better and better. It’s really fun to see. It’s a great, great program.”
This year, between the two Colorado courses, there were 46 Solich Academy caddies — 36 at CommonGround at 10 at Meridian. In their leadership classes, they learn about “Cowboy Ethics” and the 10-point “Code of the West”: 1) Live each day with courage; 2) Take pride in your work; 3) Always finish what you start; 4) Do what has to be done; 5) Be tough, but fair; 6) When you make a promise, keep it; 7) Ride for the brand; 8) Talk less and say more; 9) Remember that some things aren’t for sale; 10) Know where to draw the line.
“We love what caddying does,” said George Solich, like Duffy a success in the oil and gas business and a philanthropist. “Not only can you make money, but you can be around successful people. You can learn about leadership, you can learn principles (of success) and you can learn hard work. And regardless of where you go in life, those qualities and characteristics will benefit you for years and years. They did us, for sure.”
The formula for success adopted by the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy hasn’t gone unnoticed. Besides what has germinated in Colorado, courses in southeast Wisconsin and in Oceanside, Calif., have taken the Solich Academy template and run with it.
“It’s a really good model,” said George Solich. “The goal is to have it at a lot of different places across the country that can benefit kids and give them an opportunity.
“We have some good momentum. It would be great to see it thrive (further). The Evans Scholars Foundation is moving this way too. They have a (WGA Caddie Academy) for girls in Chicago. John (Kaczkowski, president and CEO of the WGA) and I have talked (about) how does all this kind of fit together. I think the idea is, finding more kids you can give the opportunity to.”
Suffice it to say that in five years the Solich Academy has succeeded beyond what anyone foresaw.
“I would have guaranteed you none of us had this kind of expectations (five years ago),” said Duffy Solich. “It’s far exceeded anything we expected. There was nothing like it in the country that I’m aware of. And some of the byproducts that come from it are not something you could have ever planned on.”
This year, when BMW became a presenting partner of the CGA, it also became the exclusive partner for the Solich Academy at CommonGround. The PGA Tour’s BMW Championship, which just concluded in Indiana, has raised, from the tournament’s inception in 2007 through 2015, more than $21 million for the Evans Scholars Foundation.
Also new this year, a Solich Academy Invitational was held at CommonGround with the intention of giving supporters and potential supporters a first-hand experience with Academy caddies and the program overall.
While the Soliches, Mate, Lobato and others have provided big-picture guidance to the Solich Academy, the day-to-day operations have mainly been in the hands of Emily Olson, the CGA’s manager of caddie development; Erin Gangloff, the CGA’s managing director of programs; and the caddiemasters at the respective courses, Matt Tedeschi (CommonGround) and Melyzjah Smith (Meridian). Smith is one of 53 Evans Scholars currently living at the newly renovated scholarship house at CU.
“This program would not work without the four of them,” George Solich said. “It’s really neat to see that they actually own it. They’re accountable, they’re responsible. They’re thinking about new ways to make it better.”
Added Duffy Solich: “My first round out here (at CommonGround), Melyzjah was my caddie. I was totally taken by her and I thought we have to get this girl an Evans Scholarship. She was light on loops so she had to go to school on her own (at CU) for a year. She came back and got the Evans Scholarship and now she’s a leader at the Meridian Chapter. That’s a pretty good story.”
The fruits of the labor of Olson, Gangloff, Tedeschi, Smith and others are being seen at other major clubs in the Denver metro area that utilize Solich Academy graduates in their own caddie programs.
“Personally, I’d tell you the kids that come to Cherry Hills (Country Club) from the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy are always the best kids — because they’re trained, they know the deal,” George Solich said. “That’s one of the hard parts about clubs is training caddies. I think this model really works if we can send 15 kids a year to five or six other clubs.”
Besides the benefits of kids earning money through caddying — and possibly qualifying for an Evans Scholarship — the Academy’s leadership training and volunteerism remain equally important aspects of this whole initiative.
“I really, really love the Code of the West,” George Solich said. “It’s the perfect age to talk to these kids about character, which is what Code of the West really is. When you look at programs that are very successful, it’s all about character traits and moving that into a kid’s thought process. It really adds to the experience they get at a golf course.
“When we launched, I’m so glad we decided to do that along with the caddie program. It’s as meaningful as the hard work on the golf course and as the money these kids take home.”
As part of Sunday’s festivities, awards were given out to some of the oustanding Solich Academy caddies at CommonGround and Meridian:
Caddie Leader of the Year (CommonGround)
Caddie Leader of the Year (Meridian)
Congeniality Award (CommonGround)
Congeniality Award (Meridian)
Rookie of the Year (CommonGround)
Rookie of the Year (Meridian)
Most Improved Caddie (CommonGround)
Most Improved Caddie (Meridian)
3D Award: Determination, Dedication, Desire (CommonGround)
3D Award: Determination, Dedication, Desire (Meridian)