Alison Olson, who began caddying at the Portland, Ore., property when she was 15 despite knowing nothing about the game, recently earned the Evans Scholarship to receive a full ride to the University of Oregon.
The Oregonian, based in Portland, Ore., recently posted a feature about the caddie program at Waverley Country Club in Portland, focusing on Alison Olson.
On her first day at the property, the trainees gathered, and the caddie master explained the rules of golf and caddie responsibilities. Olson learned how golf is scored, there are 18 holes on the course and different clubs are used to provide spin and angle on a shot. Carrying a bag for a member was called “working a loop,” the Oregonian reported.
After training, the kids would wait for a club member to hire them, for $50, to carry a bag of clubs around the 138-acre course, the Oregonian reported.
“They’re scared,” said Todd Stucky, a club member. “Golf has a bit of reputation of being a little out of reach and elitist.”
Aware of that, Waverley members who hire a caddie look for a chance to be a role model while they walk the course together. Without being pushy, they try to learn about that young person’s life, the Oregonian reported.
“We’ve all discovered that a lot of the kids put the money they earn into the family budget,” Stucky said. “They all have stories. I remember one kid who had to get up incredibly early and take a series of buses to get here. It’s not unusual for kids show up not having breakfast. We have a free breakfast and lunch for them. Next year, we’re going to have a transportation fund for them.”
Olson started out knowing next to nothing about golf. Early on, two men approached the caddie bench, the place where the kids waited to be hired. One man used a push cart for his clubs but the other hired Olson. She had no idea the man whose bag she was carrying was likely Waverley’s most famous member: Peter Jacobsen, a professional golfer and celebrity who has earned more than $11 million during his career. Born and raised in Portland, he was visiting from his Florida home and had met his brother, David, a Portland resident and Waverley member, for a round of golf, the Oregonian reported.
“We turned around and saw Alison walking toward us,” David Jacobsen said. “She was carrying the bag with the strap over her head, like the way a woman carries a purse across her chest. Peter and I knew she had no idea what she was doing.”
Peter Jacobsen waited for Olson to bring him his bag so he could take his second shot. Casually, so not to embarrass this girl, Jacobsen said wanted to show her something, something he’d discovered when he carried his bag. He showed her the proper way to carry it, with the strap over her shoulder, the Oregonian reported.
Through the summer, Olson worked loop after loop, learning about golf and people. Some club members swore when they missed an easy shot. Other players both won and lost with graciousness. A member would be nearly perfect on the 8th hole but collapse on the 13th. Everyone, at some time or another, failed, the Oregonian reported.
“I learned something on the course,” Olson said. “It’s important to push yourself out of your comfort zone.”
Member Cynthia Potwin said when a member uses a caddie, they become a team for as long as five hours, getting to know each other as they walk the course. It’s a chance for the young person to talk about school, what they like to study and what they want to do in life, the Oregonian reported.
On Mondays, when Waverley is closed to members, caddies can use the driving range. There, Olson discovered she liked golf. One weekend, member Teresa Gall spotted her on the caddie bench. Gall, who coached the girls golf team at La Salle, asked her to caddie for her. She told her husband and other members to keep an eye out for Olson, the Oregonian reported.
“I can relate to her,” Gall said. “I grew up in Parkdale. A country club was a foreign world. I hadn’t been to one until I met my husband. ”
When the summer season ended, Olson returned to La Salle for her junior year. That spring, she took another leap into something new. She told Gall she was going out for the team – but only the junior varsity team, playing just nine holes, noncompetitive. That summer, Olson returned to Waverley. She worked in the bag room, getting clubs ready for members, and continued to caddie. She knew now how to anticipate the next shot a member would make and what club would be appropriate, the Oregonian reported.
As her senior year loomed, and the summer season drew to a close, a Waverley member sought Olson out and told her she should apply for an Evans Scholarship, which provides winners with a full-ride to college—tuition and room-and-board. It’s worth more than $100,000 over four years. And it’s open only to caddies, the Oregonian reported.
The fund receives donations from private golf clubs and members, supporters and a $3 million annual payday, the proceeds from a professional golf tournament. Since the fund started, the group has sent more than 10,000 Evans Scholars to college. The graduation rate for the caddies who win is 95 percent, the Oregonian reported.
“These kids grow up with a little bit of grit and hunger,” said Bill Moses, a director with the Western Golf Association, which administers the scholarships. “Take a kid from the other side of the tracks. Let them meet doctors, lawyers and executives. Let them walk the course and see how they act and live.
“When they win a scholarship, they realize that other people saw something in them that perhaps they don’t see in themselves,” he said.
Olson took the application packet home and wrote about her life and her goals. How she had watched the way her parents cared for her grandmother. Hearing stories about her father’s work helping people. It made Olson realize that one day she wanted to be a registered nurse. Four months later, Olson came home from school and found a letter waiting. The judges had named her a finalist, but that was just one step. Now, she had to appear before a selection committee of 50 people who would interview her, the Oregonian reported.
The finalists met at the Portland Golf Club, a private course in Southwest Portland, the Oregonian reported.
“Anyone in the room can ask a question,” said Ed O’Mara, a Waverley member and a volunteer director for the Western Golf Association. “We want to know about them and their life. Their dreams, and what a scholarship means to them. We know about test scores and grade point averages. The interview is not about a resume, but about the person standing in front of us.”
When Olson finished, she had no indication of how she was received, but she ultimately won the scholarship, ensuring her place at the University of Oregon. She’s working in the pro shop at Waverley this summer, but she’ll head to school in a few weeks. Her next summer job will be at an assisted living facility—another step, a leap, toward her dream of being a nurse, the Oregonian reported.
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